What Does It Mean: DCP

Let’s start with something that we will hear about all the time.

A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. You will never hear, “Did we get the Digital Cinema Package?”. No one will ever say, “Will you play my independent movie please? I can send you the Digital Cinema Package…???” No. They’ll say, “We got the DCPs.” Or, “I’ll send you the DCP on a hard disk.”

Yes, it is digital, and it is cinema. Digital simply means that is capable of being used by a computer. In case you are not certain, the projector, and the media player for the projector, and sound system are basically just specialized computers. Cinema, of course, means that it has something to do with motion pictures, usually in an auditorium. (The word “cinema” hasn’t had a long life, only about 100 years. The originators of modern motion pictures, the Lumiere brothers, chose the word from the Greek word from Ancient Greek word kínēma – which means “movement”.)

The reason the DCP is called a package is that it holds all the frames of the movie, plus all the music, dialog, sound effects, all the subtitles and the files for the blind/partially sighted, deaf and hard of hearing, and the security keys. In addition, the package has some extra files that tell the computers 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. Encryption is a word that means that the files are jumbled up 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. An example of a distributor would be Deluxe.)

To make all these parts work together, the projectors and players and sound equipment and that list of files and the encryption – 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!