Monday, March 3, 2014

I Hate Streamers

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. 


MB said...

My Takeaway... I think my movie would benefit from the audience playing free cell while watching it... Therefore, Online screener!!!

But seriously. A friend of mine is submitting today via WAB and a secure screener. Should we send a couple of blu-rays over too? (we don't make DVDs, the 90s asked us to return their format to them) Thanks!

RSMellette said...

Love Blu-ray. If it's not too much cost or bother, it would be a good idea to send it over.

FYI - DVD is still the standard for screeners in the industry, mostly because of cost. Labs charge a bundle to make Blu-ray, so distributors still use DVD for sales purposes, Academy Screeners, etc.

Oh, and Thomas Edison called. He said film is still the best storage medium. :)

RSMellette said...

Oh, and...

Before some one jumps in to say that some Awards Screeners are streamed - yes, they are. Usually through iTunes, which has insanely ridge standards (in a good way). Some are screened directly from the Studio's servers, which can be a pain.

MB said...

Next time you talk to Tom, tell him I agree! And it costs me a lot more to make a DVD then a blu ray. The blanks are both under a buck so thats a wash, but burning the Bluray is quick and painless, while doing a quality downconvert takes me a day at least because I do it so rarely I have to re-learn the 'optimum' workflow and there are many false starts and crappy outcomes.


RSMellette said...

When they make nostalgia movies about the 2010's "workflow" will word repeated a thousand times.

BW said...

Hi Robert :) I just discovered your blog, and I think your inputs on films are so well written.
I just received the second round email so I'm a bit ecstatic ! Can't wait to read your next post and, maybe have our World Premiere at DWF !
BW, from the PZ !

RSMellette said...

Thanks, BW. Flattery may get you nowhere in life, but it sure make the journey a lot more pleasant.

Love the journey!

BW said...

Ahah, no worries for that, I used to be a critic, so I use flattery only with the work of people I really like. The cool thing about this blog is the honesty : neither the wannabe famous guys who decided to create a festival in order to get themselves seen neither the indie guys who follow Sundance choices and spit on more classical Hollywoodian genres. That's great being at the middle sometimes !