How I learned to stop worrying and create my own DCPs

Ever since digital projection became the norm, I’ve been trying to crack the problem of finding some decent intros, preferably reasonably priced and personalised to my cinema.  (Here’s one that I used to see every week at the local during my youth.) This used to be pretty easy in the 35mm days – you would order a few reels stating ‘Coming Soon’ or ‘Starts Friday’ or ‘Our Feature Presentation’, use them ’til they got scratched to buggery, then buy replacements.  They were readily available from the likes of Jack Roe or Sound Associates. But with digital – because you only needed to buy them once – the usual suppliers dropped them.

Some online searching led me to a company called Cinitize, who supplied some decent off-the-peg options at not-objectionable prices. (They will also created personalised versions, though these will, unsurprisingly, set you back a lot more.)  This is their pop bulb coming attractions trailer:

One disappointment is that some of their material is a bit American. Not that I blame them, but most of their trails about phones refer to ‘cell phones’ which looks odd to UK audiences, and most just ask you to silence them rather than turn them off, as though those little glowing screens don’t distract anyone. Still, I’ve been using several of their trailers for about a year. But I’ve still been hankering for something that’s a bit more specific to us.

When I discovered that there were free programmes available to create DCP files, I started to wonder – are these easy for the fairly non-technically adept to use? Can I combine these with my 8 year old version of Photoshop and create something that won’t embarrass me if I put it on screen?

I started out by looking for a programme that would let me create a simple animation. I downloaded Blender, but after a quick look it became clear that I was biting off more than I could chew.  So I started simple: trying to create a static slide asking customers to turn off their phones, that I could add to the programme just before the film started.  Jpeg artwork ready, I turned to Open DCP to see if I could convert it.

I couldn’t. However, some more online research led me to DCP Builder, which I’ve found to be rather more user friendly, largely thanks to its simple wizard which leads you through the process. Again, standard Photoshop formats weren’t what was needed – and a single slide, I discovered, leads to something that appears on screen for less than a second.

Finally, I turned to Windows MovieMaker.  It turns out that a single image can be turned into an 8 second unmoving film.  (Who knew?)  This can then be freely converted online into the necessary format for DCP Builder to use.

This was encouraging, but the real breakthrough came when I discovered that you can download lots of royalty-free animated clips ideal for cinema intros, for free – and some music to go with them. Here’s one example which seemed ideal:

OK, I know we don’t use reels or film anymore, but they still say ‘cinema’ better than any of the little zeroes and ones that might represent digital projection.

Sadly, though the backgrounds work fine in moviemaker, the programme didn’t allow me to overlay my venue’s logo.  That can be done, but it looks like I’d have to actually spend some money on a more sophisticated programme, which I was trying to avoid.  So I had to fade into a still image at the end:

I added music to the film, but I discovered that DCP builder doesn’t recognise that – you need to load the music file separately. Unless you want the track to start right at the beginning (I didn’t), this means editing.  Turns out there’s some free stuff that will let you do that too.

With a combination of a free countdown background, free music and a slide of my logo, I ended up with this:

It’s getting there, and with a little more tweaking I have no doubt that I’ll be running my own trails and intros on screen within the next week or so. Whether any members of the audience will notice the difference, I have no idea – but I’ll know.  A more elaborate programme could enhance it – maybe I’ll invest at some point.

And if any cinema operators reading this feel like getting their own versions… well, the stuff I used is all freely available.  Alternatively, I would be delighted to create something for you at a very reasonable price.

Finally, if anyone is still wondering why I bothered with all this, here’s a collection of classics from the past that inspired me.

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