Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Your Feature Film Tape Deliverables as of 2012

I remember the first time I saw a deliverables list for a film. It scared me. I didn't understand what most of it was and it all sounded super expensive.

Now that I've delivered a few films to distributors, I understand each item and I know the general costs. Yes, deliverable lists still scare me, but I can usually find a way to deliver a film, even with little funds available.

I thought I would discuss and comment on the current tape deliverables. I am showing a real and recent list from a popular digital distribution distributor. (Look for my comments in parens and blue.)

Note that this list does not address the fact that many films are being projected from blu-ray and DCP (digital cinema package) in theaters. The below only addresses tape delivery.

Here is a current deliverable list for your tape masters for a feature film: 

Mandatory:

    Feature (HD or high definition):
    Tape Format: HDCAM SR (HDCamSR is your master video tape of your film. An SR tape is recommended for an HDCam master of your film as it allows for the highest picture quality and 5.1 sound. An HDCam tape that is not SR is more economical but lesser quality and only has 4 channels for sound. It is typically used for screening your film. HDCamSRs can be screened as well but the theater must have the right (costlier) deck for projecting an SR. Most theaters will only have the ability to screen from an HDCam as they won't want to rent the more expensive SR deck. Typically, you have an SR as your master for your film and then have HDCams (not SRs) made from your SR tape. Here is a good blog entry from Binary Banton that explains the differences and even discusses the lesser used D5 (D5 used to be the industry standard master tape until the higher quality HDCamSR appeared on the scene): http://bantonj.wordpress.com/video-stuff/mastering/hdcam-d5-hdcam-sr/.) 
    Standard: 1080P (23.98) 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 (Your post house will know what this all means. Don't be afraid to ask them to explain it all. 1080P is a high resolution. 23.98 is the requested frame rate. The other frame rate you will see is 29.97, which is a broadcast frame rate. 23.98 is typically preferred if you are finishing on film or for anything other than broadcast and 29.97 is preferred if you are going to broadcast. If you aren't sure, many recommend 23.98 as it is thought to give a little more of a film look to your movie. Don't worry, your 23.98 film can be converted for a 29.97 broadcast. And often your distributor will accept either frame rate at delivery.
    4:4:4 and 4:2:2 is very techie. My eyes glaze and my brain mushes a bit thinking about it. But I know it has to do with color quality. 4:4:4 has equal luminance and chroma, whereas 4:2:2 has less chroma in order to save on bandwidth. As a producer, I know the current standard is 4:2:2 and the picture quality is still strong at 4:2:2. And most cameras will only output 4:2:2.  The human eye supposedly has a hard time discerning the difference between 4:4:4 and 4:2:2. But if you want your HDCamSR master to have the highest quality components then it's often recommended that your master be in 4:4:4 if your camera was recording in 4:4:4. You can learn more about the mind-blowing 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 at this Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chroma_subsampling.)
    Aspect Ratio:16x9 1.78 FF w/cc (FF = full frame and cc = closed captioning. Since many independent films do not do theatricals, this aspect ratio is often preferred by distributors as it is full frame and viewers do not have to see the black strips on the top and bottom of a letterboxed frame. If you only have a letterboxed version of your film and your distributor demands full frame then you will have to manipulate your picture by cutting off the sides etc in order to get your film in full frame. An economical way is to have an editor manipulate the electronic file of your film in your editing software and then output that version from the hard drive to tape. And yes, you will have to have a company create closed captioning for your film if your distributor requires it. Ideally, you have every film you make in closed captioning so hard of hearing audiences can enjoy your film as well, but there may be some pictures with budgets that don't allow for cc.)
    Aspect Ratio:16x9 2.40 Letterbox w/cc (Most DPs and directors love shooting in this ratio as it allows for that amazing wide screen motion picture experience you get in the theater. However, when delivering a 2.40 ratio on tape, it will be letterboxed with black strips on the top and bottom and distribs don't like that. They prefer full frame viewing for their outlets. They don't want their audiences to have to see the black strips on the film. Converting your 2.40 letterbox to full frame hurts as it will require manipulation of the picture - not as bad as going to 4x3 but there is still some cutting off of the sides of your frame.)

    Audio Configuration:
    Channels 1&2 English Stereo Left/Right
    Channels 3&4 Stereo M&E Left/Right (if available) (An M&E is the "Music" and "Effects" of the original soundtrack only. All of the English language dialogue is removed for foreign language dubbing.)
    Channel 5 Left
    Channel 6 Center
    Channel 7 Right
    Channel 8 Left Surround
    Channel 9 Right Surround
    Channel 10 LFE (subwoofer)
    Picture/Audio must start @ hour 1 (01.00.00.00)
    Closed Captioning must decode properly and be free from any errors
    Recorded with continuous time code
    Picture must be fully color corrected with proper color, shading and density as is customarily required for exhibition

    Feature (SD or standard definition):

    Tape Format:Digital Betacam Standard: NTSC (Digibeta are standard definition tapes. They are used for standard definition distribution outlets and some festivals still screen from Digibetas.  However, if your film is in HD, do what you can to present it in HD as the quality of the picture will be much higher. Blu-rays are often used for screenings as the blu-ray players are affordable and easy to project and the filmmaker can show the film in HD. The downside to a blu-ray is that they aren't as reliable as an HDCam. Skipping can be a bigger issue when screening on blu-ray. NTSC is the American standard. PAL is an international standard.)
    Aspect Ratio:16x9 1.78 FF w/cc

    Audio Configuration:
    Channels 1&2 English Stereo/Left Right Channels 3&4 Stereo M&E Left/Right (if available) (Digibetas do not have the channels available to include 5.1 on separate channels. Supposedly you can have your 5.1 compressed into a Dolby E [I've never done it], but most festivals don't have the ability to read the compression so it may not be a useful thing to do.)

    Recorded in “DFTC” (or Drop Frame Timecode; Non-Drop Frame Timecode means that for every frame of video there is a corresponding timecode number. DFTC, or Drop Frame Timecode, is used with NTSC video that has a frame rate of 29.97 in order to compensate for the fact that it is .03 fps slower than the nearest whole number of 30fps. Timecode numbers are presented in whole numbers, therefore, some numbers need to be periodically skipped in drop frame timecode.)
    Picture/Audio must start @ hour 1 (01.00.00.00)

    Closed Captioning must decode properly and be free from any errors
    Recorded with continuous time code
    Picture must be fully color corrected with proper color, shading and density as is customarily required for exhibition

    Feature (SD or standard definition):
    Tape Format:Digital Beta cam
    Standard: NTSC
    Aspect Ratio:4x3 1.33 FF and/or Pan/Scan w/cc (Your DP and director and even the producer will likely cry when they realize they need to deliver their film in 4x3. Get the tissues ready. There are still a lot of people who own 4x3 TVs so distributors like to have all of their films in this ratio. In fact, On Demand outlets often show their films in 4x3. In order to convert your film to 4x3, you will have to manipulate your picture big time. This is where the crying comes in. Have your editor go scene by scene and move the image around so the most important visuals [i.e. your actors' faces] fits in the 4x3 cross hairs. It will slaughter the look and feel of your film, but it is usually required. Then save the file and output to tape from your hard drive.)

    Audio Configuration:
    Channels 1&2 English Stereo/Left Right Channels 3&4 Stereo M&E Left/Right (if available)

    Recorded in “DFTC” (drop frame time code)
    Picture/Audio must start @ hour 1 (01.00.00.00)
    Closed Captioning must decode properly and be free from any errors
    Recorded with continuous time code
    Picture must be fully color corrected with proper color, shading and density as is customarily required for exhibition

    When features are available in 5.1 Dolby Surround, please supply a separate audio element as follows:

    Audio Deliveries:

    Protools Sessions on DVD-R 5.1/2.0 English Printmaster .wav file
    24 bit Running Film Speed NDFTC

    48 hrz
    w/out SR Encoding
That's all folks! Happy holidays! And happy delivering!

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