Mastering Local Short Drama Films
Here’s the rule: You begin at the end.
See what you need to deliver and work backwards BEFORE you start shooting.
So who do you talk with first?
Director and producer – discuss who you want to see your film, and where you want them to see it.
Your producer talks with your funder (if you’ve got funding) to find out what they require and what’s required for distribution (it’s usually in the funding contract) and these are called the deliverables. You’ll find an example below.
This is a good time to check the deliverables required by the festivals you want to apply to as well – check their website, check a sales agent, check your funder. Deliverables change regularly so there is no ‘rule’.
If you’ve got a finishing post house, this is the time both director and producer (and cinematographer if they’re available) should talk with them about all the different elements in your film and what you’re required to deliver. This will also include what resolution is best suited to your project.
If you’re on a minuscule budget and going it alone, doing the grading and mastering out of your editing platform yourselves, director, producer and cinematographer still need to hold this conversation with an operator who is experienced in outputting masters for cinema and festival projection. You’ll find some post houses and also independent grading and finishing people in Resources.
These conversations set in place the frame rate for shooting, format and what must be generated for delivery for this particular film.
A fundamental question to ask during the conversation with your post house or finishing expert is: What is the best frame rate to shoot at which will give the most flexibility for our end use (deliverables)?
A DCP (Digital Cinema Package) usually forms part of the deliverables and this is what gets played in a cinema anywhere in the world. It’s true that you can make a DCP in any frame rate but the practical reality is that your DCP will probably be played from an automated projection booth and no one will be checking that your frame rate is not the standard speed they normally handle.
A DCP conversion at the end can be an expensive addition to a budget already spent by that stage. Another note is that some festivals may create their own DCPs, but you will still need to supply the materials to make one.
About Frame Rates
You’re generally dealing with 23.976 or 24 or 25. General rule of thumb is 24fps for cinema release, 25fps for television release in NZ. However, it’s been a standard for over a decade now that we shoot 23.976 for cinema release so we need to unpack these frame rates a bit further.
The Origins of 23.976
Firstly, let’s look at the knotty little number of 23.976, which confuses everyone but in the finish is fairly simple. It began when HD digital video came out and TV monitors played only 25 or 30fps depending on which country you were in and which system they used – PAL or NTSC. The only way to show footage shot for cinema at 24fps on post production TV monitors, which could not handle 24fps, was to slow it to 23.976 – there was no other way of doing it.
Then cameras came out that shot 23.976 because the same problem existed with the viewing monitor on set for checking takes. The entire workflow was now built around 23.976 so that people could see what they were doing both on set and in post. If film was shot at 24, it would be transcoded to 23.976 digital files to edit, do the edit and then change back to the DCI standard of 24 for release deliverables. So that’s the background. 23.976 is a legacy frame rate.
Nowadays TVs will handle any frame rate in the one monitor, so the workflow has moved away from set frame rates.
BUT there are still standards for deliverables and these need to be checked before you start shooting.
- NZTV release requires 25p or 50i.
- USTV release requires 29.97p or 59.94i.
- NZ & US Cinema release – 24 or 48fps.
- The beauty of streaming is that it doesn’t have to go through a broadcast system – it’s frame rate agnostic.
The only reason to still shoot at 23.976 is the very real possibility that somewhere in the workflow chain there will be some devices still geared to 23.976, not 24, and that will queer the pitch for the whole workflow.
So besides having those conversations right up front, you really need to make sure you have a workflow meeting before shooting and test the workflow because anybody in the workflow chain could have legacy equipment.
The decision to shoot 23.976, 24 or 25 fps (or any other frame rate) is for producer and director to decide on the basis of their discussions with online and VFX post houses, and cinematographer regarding the sort of film they are making and where they want it to be seen.
It is not the decision of the cinematographer or editor alone, although inexperienced producers and directors will often leave that decision in those hands without anyone having had these essential discussions first.
Specifics change with every film – there is no one answer, one size will not fit all. What works for your mate may not work for you – you’re not using the same people or the same equipment, and you won’t have the same workflow in place.
Those initial conversations are critical. And access to knowledge of the practical realities can be really useful, so keep your communication lines open.
Deliverables Short Drama example:
These will change for every production and for every festival.
The Contractor Agrees to provide the following deliverables:
To Produce and direct one Film [name of film] (‘the Film’). The delivery date of this film is [date] including the following deliverables:
i. 1 x HD (1920 x 1080p) ProRes 4:2:2 to be delivered in the original aspect ratio – 10bit with 5.1 or Stereo audio
ii. 1 x HD (1920 x 1080p) H264 .mov file with stereo under 2GB to be used for upload to Vimeo (Password Protected)
iii. ProRes 4:2:2 of trailer
iv. A signed statement from the producer that all project media, final picture and sound master files are archived on HDD and stored safely for retrieval on two (2) separate drives, in separate locations
v. Music cue sheet
vi. DCP (Digital Cinema Package)
vii. 1 x clone of the master DCP to be provided to [the funder] on its own hard drive. If encrypted please advise the laboratory or post-production facility that can generate KDM when required
viii. 2-Track Printmaster: One (1) 2-track stereo printmaster (SVA format – Dolby SR) as WAV or AIFF files.
ix. 6-Track Printmaster (5.1): One (1) 6-track printmaster as WAV or AIFF files. This should be Dolby SRD encoded with the following audio configuration: left/left surround/centre/right surround/right/LFE
x. 6 x Key images – set of 6 production stills (jpeg and tiff files at 300dpi) clearly labelled with the film title, character and actor names (images to be utilised for creating publicity materials. ‘Behind the scenes’ images are optional extras). Images to be reviewed by [funder/producer/ director] prior to delivery
xi. 1 x portrait image of the Director provided as a tiff and jpeg at 300dpi (head and shoulders facing camera)
xii. A one page, two-sided publicity document with final film title, logline (no more than 35 words), short synopsis (no more than 200 words), director, writer, producer bios (no more than 50 words per person) and up to four (4) key publicity images
xiii. A signed statement from the Producer confirming that the entire amount of the payment was spent on the production of the film
Page last updated on 21 September 2022
Images: Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen (Courtesy of Arama Pictures Ltd)
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