Can I Make My Own DCP?

You can make a DCP, but plan first

This is one of the most common questions we get from indie filmmakers (and even clients in general). On one hand, it’s kind of rude (making DCPs is what we do for a living after all). But we do understand the do-it-yourself mantra that fuels independent film. And we appreciate the number of people that trust us enough to ask.

The most honest answer we can give is: “Yes, absolutely – but you might not want to.”

We’re not going to tell anyone it’s impossible to learn how to make a DCP. It’s how we got started many years ago. It’s a Linux-based digital format so you don’t need any special equipment to start. If you have a computer and a spare hard drive, you can start experimenting. There are now lots of excellent resources online about the inner workings of SMPTE and Interop packaging, JPEG2000 compression and X’Y’Z’ color. Smart and motivated communities are just a Google search away. There is also now an increasing collection of open source (or inexpensive) tools which can help simplify the process.

The DCI Specification is available on-line for free (we’d also recommend picking up the SMPTE Digital Cinema Documents which are not).

The downside of DIY

With that said, constructing valid DCPs – even with tools, remains a complicated process. The process requires skills somewhat different than those usually required in post-production. It would help to be familiar with (or interested in): Color space theory, Linux, and XML for a start. Some programming or scripting knowledge would be helpful as well.

To start you need a fast modern desktop computer with a large amount of (RAID) storage. Mastering a DCP requires hundreds of thousands of files and more than 1TB of space for a single feature.

To make your own DCP also requires time (on a regular computer it can take days to output). For loading drives, you will also need a separate Linux-based computer (or know how to run one under virtualization).

One of the biggest challenges with making your own DCPs is they will be a “black box” to most indie filmmakers. While it’s possible to create a DCP – there are currently no reliable open source ways to view or test DCPs. Even expensive software viewers don’t guarantee your file will load on theatre hardware. In a perfect world, one would test packages on different brands of equipment. Without a test machine, it’s hard to know to know if a DCP works, or if there’s a problem.

Our Two Most Important Pieces of Advice

  1. Don’t ever try to make a DCP package for the first time under the crunch of an imminent screening.
  2. When we started researching DCP, it took us four months to get to a point where we made packages we were happy with. It took us several more until we were satisfied our QC process was catching most major issues.

  3. There are many plugins, wizards, exports, and other “automatic” tools to output DCPs. Packages created by these tools often have significant compatibility issues with theatrical equipment.
  4. We’ll admit we have a big conflict of interest on this front. But we are aware of too many situations where DCPs created this way had serious issues. For this reason, many film festivals and distributors will not accept DCPs made with automatic plugins or exports.

Want to Get Started?

It’s possible for anyone with enough interest, time and determination to create a DCP. Whether that’s a journey you would enjoy is up to you. For what it’s worth, we started with The Wikipedia Article on DCP. Go forth and best of luck in your DCP adventures!

(Just to shill for a second: If you are making your own DCPs, but unsure how they perform, we offer fairly priced Quality Control and review services. Just something that might of interest to anyone experimenting with homebrew DCPs but unable to test them directly.)

 
Do you have questions about the confusing world of Digital Cinema? Don’t worry Ask The DCP Master is here to help. Check out our most common questions, or ask your own.

Are you an independent filmmaker, distributor, or festival looking for professional, inexpensive, DCP services? Visit TheDCPMaster.com to see what we can do for you!