I don't know if I have regular readers, or if people just check in here to see if they'll find some insight about how their submissions are going – but either way, you might have noticed I didn't post anything last week. Unfortunately, the flu quarantine we tried a couple of weeks ago didn't work for me. I missed last week's screening and am just coming out of the fog of yuck. I'll end up taking home a stack of the shorts to make up for the missed time.
While I was down, I got some online screening links sent over. We've done a couple of these for last minute submissions in the past, but for some insane reason a few filmmakers have insisted on only submitting via streaming video this year.
Not so long ago, filmmakers were hesitant to send out screeners of any kind. They spent years making a movie for the big screen, so they wanted it evaluated in the best possible conditions. Now, people seem perfectly happy to have us watch their movie on a watch… or a phone, or a tablet. You have worked so hard, why do you want us to watch it under the worst possible conditions?
Hopefully, you have slaved away to finish your sound, so when it is presented on speakers as big as elephants it will be perfect. Why then do you want us to listen to it on a laptop with speakers the size of a quarter?
"But," I hear some of you saying, "a DVD screener is SD, and the online file is HD, which is SOOO much better."
No, it's not, and here's why. Your HD file is streaming at a variable bit rate that you're not in control of. You have no idea how many mps your streaming service has available, nor how many my service can take. An HD file streamed at 15 mps is nearly impossible to watch. It jumps and jitters, turning your hard editing work into Swiss cheese. If your film is handheld, it will be unwatchable.
And even if the viewer waits to let the file load, you have no control over their processor speed, ram, or how many other programs are fighting for attention. Your movie might look great on one computer and terrible on another.
Compare that to a well-made SD DVD played on my Play Station 3. The system does a quick up-res to HD. Not as good as Blu-Ray, sure, but good enough. I have a 62" Plasma screen (as opposed to my 17" laptop) and 5.1 surround sound with nice Yamaha speakers. Not only that, but I'm comfortable on my couch. I have fewer distractions, so I'm less likely to play a quick game of Free Cell during a slow part of your movie.
Yes, I know that I can hook my laptop up to my TV with an HDMI cable and stream the HD file, but that only makes the slow bit rate or overworked processor even worse and it's a pain in the behind. Why should I do that, when I can just pop in a DVD?
And those complaints are just the regular viewer side of the equation. There are also Festival Director Things that make me prefer DVDs.
First, you have to remember, we see a lot of poorly made movies. Often these have been shot on Digital SLR cameras by people who think reading the manual makes them a DP. These movies are full of shutter-flutter that make them nauseating to watch on the big screen. We see movies that are poorly edited, with cuts that don't match, or jump cuts for no reason. We see movies with bad three-two pull downs, or shot at variable frame rates and pasted together without proper transcodes.
When watching a poorly streamed movie, it's impossible to know if it's poorly shot, poorly edited, or beautifully made and just looks bad because there was a lot of internet traffic on the server when we watched it.
Another Festival Director Thing that seems petty – and okay, maybe it is, but that doesn't make it not an issue: When it comes down to making decisions, we stack up DVDs. "Yes," "No," "Maybe," "Robert's Stack," "Second Looks," etc. Files do not stack well. I don't know what we're going to do this year. Maybe have a piece of paper with the title on it, but that's a poor substitute. Many times, we need a reminder of how we felt about a movie, so we'll pop the DVD in, watch a few seconds, and say, "Oh, yes! I love this movie." Sometimes, the handwritten title on the DVD will spark a memory like the cover of a good book. It's just not the same as having to find the website and the pass word and hope the wi-fi is working.
All of that said – we will still consider all submissions equally, and my opinion is not the only one at DWF. If you can only submit online, we will deal with it. But if you're one of those people who constantly looks for the tiniest edge in how to better your chances, you've just found a big one for DWF.