When we released Calvin Marshall to theaters in 2009, we cut the 35mm negative, made film prints and shipped film reels in metal canisters to theaters.
Very few theaters still screen film prints. Most have moved to digital projectors which screen films using a DCP (digital cinema package).
VPF (Virtual Print Fee)
When theaters change over to digital, they had to buy extremely expensive digital projection systems which most theaters purchased with financing deals subsidized through film distributors. Every time a film screened, the distributor was required to pay a VPF (Virtual Print Fee) to help offset the costs of the equipment.
These VPFs have been cost prohibitive to many independent films. When we released Black Road in theaters in 2014, we were required to sign a contract with GDC, the digital cinema equipment provider, agreeing to pay a VPF per theater per week. Fees ranged between $300-$1,200 depending on the number of showtimes and the number of weeks the film was in release.
Over the last year, the financing contracts for most theaters have expired, so we are not obligated to pay VPFs, and we have chosen not to screen in theaters who still are in contract and require VPFs.
DCP (Digital Cinema Package)
For each screening, we are required to ship a DCP of the film on a hard drive to the theater. During the summer, we handled the duplication and shipping ourselves, but for the release, we have hired a facility to handle this.
It is important that the theaters receive the DCP at least a few days (preferably a week) in advance since they need time ingest the DCP into their system. Depending on the speed of the hard drive, this could take several hours. Most theaters also reserve time to test the film before starting the run.
During the summer tour, we had a couple theaters receive defective DCPs, and I had to overnight a new DCP the day before the screening. Thankfully, we carried extra DCPS in the RV as well as Blu-Rays (as a backup screening format).
We copied our DCPs in-house onto $25 thumb drives. They were cheaper than the standard rugged drives but had slower upload & playback times. One theater who didn’t ingest the DCP until the day of the screening ran out of time because of the slow upload speed. They tried to play the film off the DCP real-time, but because of the thumb drive’s slow playback speed, the film had a slight stutter.
All this to say… it is certainly possible to copy DCPs in-house, and it saves money. But be aware of the drawbacks with speed of download, make sure to send the DCP well ahead of time, and check in with the theater to make sure it has been ingested and tested in their system in advance.
We work with Neptune Post to do our color and DCP creation. We send them the full resolution 4K video files. Once they finish the color, they add the 5.1 audio to the video and create the DCP which we then send to a print trafficking house for DCP shipment.
There are several companies who do print trafficking (managing the shipments of the exhibition copies to each theater.)
We got quotes from ByDeluxe (used by studios), Eclair Play (used by many indies), and Simple DCP (used primarily for festivals).
They all have a setup fee betwee $250–300 and charge $50–100 per theater.
All of our DCPs will be going out at the beginning of this week for ingesting and testing in preparation for the March 20 opening!