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» Film-Tech Forum   » Operations   » Digital Cinema Forum   » A hobbyist asks another question: Virtual Print Fee

   
Author Topic: A hobbyist asks another question: Virtual Print Fee
Guy Burns
Film Handler

Posts: 15
From: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Registered: Jun 2017


 - posted 07-07-2017 12:01 AM      Profile for Guy Burns   Email Guy Burns   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thanks to the many comments and suggestions from my previous post (http://www.film-tech.com/ubb/f16/t003048.html), I thought I had enough knowledge to talk to the manager of the local cinema and arrange a time to hire a theatre -- only to be thrown by a reference to VPN.

I went along to the cinema, armed with my audio visual on Blu-ray and also a DCP version (thanks to Carsten and his significant help on the DCP forum). Towards the end of our chat, I got around to asking when would be a good time to do a test. Not expecting then and there, but I had the material just in case.

The manager said: "Oh, you can't show your DCP on our equipment unless you pay the Virtual Print Fee –- but you can show your Blu-ray because they won't know about it", and then went on to explain that their DCP machinery talks to the USA and knows what's being played. But if I go in via Blu-ray, it should be able to sneak past.

So I checked into it, and sure enough, on this Australian web site, http://www.independentcinemas.com.au/virtual-print-fee-program, it says…

EVERY PERSON WHO HIRES A DIGITAL CINEMA PROJECTION SYSTEM AT A PARTICIPATING CINEMA WILL BE ASKED TO PAY A ‘VIRTUAL PRINT FEE’ (SEPARATE TO THE COST OF CINEMA HIRE) TO HELP SUPPORT AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND CINEMAS COVER THE COST OF CONVERSION DURING THE DIGITAL TRANSITION…

… and that I have to email someone at cinedgm.com and pay up.

I assume "EVERY PERSON" includes me as a hobbyist, just wanting to present some slide shows.

Q1
How difficult is it going to be for me to get permission to use DCP?

Q2
How much will it cost?

Q3
Will someone be able to detect that the Barco at the local theatre is playing un-paid-for DCP?

Q4
Or has the manager got it wrong?

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1943
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011


 - posted 07-07-2017 12:31 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Not all theatres have a VPF arrangement, but some do. The idea is that the theatre got a subsidy for their digital cinema equipment and everyone who shows content using that subsidized equipment is expected to pay a fee to the VPF provider who put up the money to buy it. Which isn't an unfair or unreasonable arrangement.

I don't know a lot about it since my theatre has no VPF, but as far as I know all it takes is giving money to the VPF provider to get permission to show your dcp.

And yes, the VPF provider can definitely tell what dcp is played on the equipment and when. I don't think you are allowed to play a dvd or blue-ray without paying the fee, either. You may want to check this out with the VPF provider to get a definite answer, though. Trying to "sneak past" could get the theatre into a fair bit of trouble since it would be contrary to their contract with the VPF provider -- do you really want to get involved in something shady like that?

The other way to do it would be to talk to a theatre that has no VPF in place. They do exist.

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Marcel Birgelen
Film God

Posts: 2525
From: Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
Registered: Feb 2012


 - posted 07-07-2017 03:01 AM      Profile for Marcel Birgelen   Email Marcel Birgelen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well, this theater surely doesn't seem to be one of the more professional outlets when it comes to arranging private screenings. They really should've been telling you all this beforehand.

Like the text you're quoting already mentions, those VPF programs have been established in order to help cinemas afford the transition to DCI. In essence, the big film distributors committed themselves to pay in part for the transition, because they are the biggest beneficiaries. So, part of the money they didn't have to spend on making film prints went into those VPF programs.

Theaters under the VPF program lease their DCI equipment and until it has been paid off, the equipment is essentially owned by the VPF provider, which charges the theater a monthly fee for their part and which in turn charges the film distributors for their part. There might be different VPF implementations, but those I know all charge the distributors a certain amount per show and not based on ticket sales.

VPF providers employ different methods to get their numbers regarding who they need to bill for what. The more advanced installs do have an always-on VPN connection to some operations center (often called a NOC) and from there, they can extract the logs on those machines. The logs exactly list what DCP has been played at what time.

When you play content via HDMI, there will be no log entries that state what has been played. There still might be log entries that indicate the input has been switched to HDMI though.

I'm pretty certain their VPF contract closes the HDMI loophole, even though their monitoring might not catch it, everybody playing content through other means than a DCP will almost certainly also be required to pay the VPF charges.

Like Frank already mentioned, the specifics really depend on the particular VPF contract the theater's equipment is covered by. Most do have provisions for indie content, because a lot of theaters do play indie content. Most theaters under VPF doing "third party" shows I know, have an arangement with their VPF provider to account for it. Essentially, they charge the VPF part to you as part of your engagement and they settle it with their VPF provider. In my opinion, this should be the way any theater who offers "third party" showings should handle it.

In case of your theater, Cinedigm seems to be the VPF provider. Personally, I still do believe it should be the task of your theater, but you could drop them a mail and ask them what their approach is for the showing of independent content at your particular cinema.

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Monte L Fullmer
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From: Nampa, Idaho, USA
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 - posted 07-07-2017 04:10 AM      Profile for Monte L Fullmer   Email Monte L Fullmer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Also, those big box cinemas that went with the VPF deals to light their screens with these digital units, cannot have special manager, or simple staff screenings to preview the content prior to the regular engagement, unless it's authorized by the studios to allow this practice.

I used to work for a big box operation and when we were film, we had no problems with after hour screenings - both management and staff screenings.

But as soon as the conversion was completed, all of this was suddenly verboten und anhalten unless cleared by the studios.

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

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From: Forsyth, Montana
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 - posted 07-07-2017 08:59 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
There's also a very good chance that the cinema in question HAD a VPF program, but it's finished. Most of those deals were for five years, and the biggest push of VPF digital cinema installs was about six to eight years ago. It's entirely possible that the manager you spoke to THINKS they have a VPF deal in place but the deal is no longer binding.

It all depends on when they installed their equipment.

As pointed out above, a communication with Cinedigm might shed some light.

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Guy Burns
Film Handler

Posts: 15
From: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Registered: Jun 2017


 - posted 07-08-2017 08:07 AM      Profile for Guy Burns   Email Guy Burns   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thanks for all the responses. This VPF thing was new to me when mentioned by the manager, and I came away with the impression it was my responsibility to arrange matters – the reason I started this thread.

But I also thought, after reading info about VPF, that any agreement must lapse sometime, as Mike Blakesley has suggested. The new equipment arrived about 2013.

Ques
My presentations will consist of (if it all works out, that is):

• a 60-second trailer shown for the previous week, either in the local ads section before every movie, or better still, alongside the big Hollywood trailers.
• a Before-Interval section
• the main presentation.

How is the VPF typically calculated:

• per DCP file? (in which case, the above would cost 100 units, say, because of all the ads)
• per day? (1 unit)
• per minute?
• monthly contract?

VPF Program in Australia
The Australian site where I got the info about VPN, http://www.independentcinemas.com.au, says:

The VPF Program is being administered by Cinedigm, the largest VPF integrator in the world, with its head office in the US.

That seems to imply there are other integrators, and that there is only one for the whole of Australia –- Cinedgm.

It also says:
IF YOU ARE A FILM SUPPLIER WISHING TO CONFIRM A FILM BOOKING AT A PARTICIPATING CINEMA YOU MUST FIRST MAKE YOUR VPF PAYMENT TO CINEDIGM OR SIGN A LONG TERM CONTRACT.

All the above leads me to a few observations (correct me if I'm wrong);

1. My local cinema may have joined the organisation called independentcinemas.com.au, and thus have connections to Cinedgm; or

2. They may have joined some other organisation, and have links to another VPF integrator;

3. In either case, their VPF contract may have lapsed.

PROBLEMS
I don't want to put the Manager's nose out of joint by asking too many questions. They might get a bit stroppy about a mere hobbyist asking about their VPF contracts and when they expire.

And also, I don't want to be seen to be going behind the Manager's back, asking Cinedigm questions about me showing AVs at the local cinema. For all I know, Cinedigm might or might not be the VPF integrator, and they might send the Manager an email asking why this bloke Burns is asking so many questions.

My goodness. What a mess, from my point of view. Maybe I should just ignore it, and leave it to the manager.

I just want to show a couple of my AVs, and see my trailer in amongst the Big Boys from Hollywood!

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Marcel Birgelen
Film God

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From: Maastricht, Limburg, Netherlands
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 - posted 07-08-2017 10:17 AM      Profile for Marcel Birgelen   Email Marcel Birgelen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well, I'd say that the manager should know if the VPF contract is still valid or if it has lapsed. If he doesn't know, then who else should? If it started in 2013, then it will most likely be fulfilled somewhere in 2018. The fact that he mentioned it, is a strong indication it is still in place.

Keep in mind that most VPF contracts are under some form of NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). So, neither party is usually allowed to tell too many details regarding their deal.

That's also why nobody, except the theater themselves, can tell you what the fee would be. To give you an impression, the amount is largely based on the costs for a traditional 35mm feature print. You can easily find on-line what the average price of such a print was. It's by no means an exact figure, but it gives you an impression. You can also estimate the average amount of shows per print. So, somewhere about that number, you can estimate the "VPF charge per show", it won't be hundreds of US Dollars or AU Dollars for a single show, but you should expect administrative surcharges. Still, you really need to check this with the theater or if they refer you to their VPF provider, you can check it with them.

Usually, you should not directly contact the VPF provider, but I was under the impression you were asked to do so by the theater. Like mentioned before, the theater itself normally arranges anything that should be dealt with, for you. This is reasonable to expect because you're simply not a party in this VPF deal.

VPF "kickbacks" are usually calculated per SHOW, so not per DCP, as most shows concern multiple DCPs, like advertisements, trailers, logos, you name it. Those components of the show are not part of those kickback arrangements and nobody pays the VPF provider for this kind of content. It would also be a horrendous task to administer, for all parties involved and the administrative overhead most likely would not benefit the bottom line.

I fail to understand the structure of your show though, this is what I understand about it, so correct me if I'm wrong:

- You have a 60 second trailer which would be run as part of the theater's existing advertising or trailer program.
- You have a short or a trailer which will be run before the intermission of the theater's existing program?
- You have your own, full feature show or shows, which will be a show of its own, not part of any existing show?

You're not the very first "independent" who wants to show something in a cinema, so there are provisions for this. If the local manager isn't helpful, you might ask yourself if you've chosen the right venue. Then again, we don't exactly know what your plan is either. [Wink]

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Carsten Kurz
Film God

Posts: 3681
From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
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 - posted 07-08-2017 10:41 AM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Guy - I am sorry I turned you into making a DCP without mentioning the possible issue of VPF preventing you from actually showing a DCP in that specific cinema. Discussions on VPF were more prominent when these deals had been negotiated 5-8 years ago. In the meantime, public attention on VPF has ceased considerably, so it escaped my attention.

Anyway - if the manager doesn't feel good about letting you run a DCP, but has no problems allowing this through HDMI - then I feel HDMI/Bluray is your only option, if you want to keep good relations to that manager.

It is true that every DCP playout is logged on that machine and the VPF third party/Cinedigm will read out these logs in order to bill for the equipment usage.
HDMI use may be logged, but it can't be tracked the way DCP playout can. So I guess the manager took that road previously, otherwise he wouldn't suggest it. The reason he didn't tell you about the VPF issue before is probably that he never thought you would actually turn up with a DCP.

When you break down the typical cost for an installation by dividing the number of DCP showings over the runtime of the VPF contract, one would think the fee for a single showing couldn't be so much. However, the big studios show more content and have existing contracts with Cinedigm, and a one-off showing could be billed much higher. I suggest you watch the Bluray in that theater for testing, and if you are satisfied with what you see and hear, continue that road.

Of course, you could try to call Cinedigm and, without mentioning that specific theater at first, ask them how much a single screening would cost, how complicated such a single show arrangement would be, or wether there are exemption rules for that type of presentation. But, of course, don't mention that HDMI loophole...
The email and phone contact for that specific application is given at the end of that document you linked to, so, I'd just go ahead and ask about the cost.

The fact that the manager suggests HDMI because Cinedigm is not able to properly track alternative content playout shows that he knows something about the technical aspects of VPF billing. I don't think he will be annoyed if you simply ask for how long he has to further operate under these rules. Sure he would know or would want to know that himself.

As a cinema operator, I would be pissed off by these rules, not being able to support local interest without major hurdles imposed by VPF. So I am glad we're not under VPF agreement. I usually support film makers in creating, testing and showing their indie content whenever possible, seems we are lucky.

It must occur pretty weird to you that your initial simple plan has grown so complicated. But as Marcel put it, maybe you were just unlucky with that specific location. Yes, in some regions, you may not have another choice.

- Carsten

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5195
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 07-08-2017 11:20 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
In the end, isn't the payment of VPF the responsibility of the theatre? Seems absurd that the theatre would offer the facility for rentals and not be able to do so with a firm rental offer price.

We rent our theatre out all the time and we don't nickle and dime a client to death with hidden fees; we work out all our costs to present a show, be it the cost of security guards, ushers, cleaners, etc., and present the client with a rental fee. It would be ridiculous to then say, oh, wait, but you have to hire the security company or a cleaning crew yourself. ESPECIALLY given that with VPFs, there is no routine path for non-exhibitors to be able to easily pick up the phone and get the information about what the VPF costs would be for his rental and ESPECIALLY given that the information seems to be so hush hush that you need top security clearance to get any of it -- big secrets going on here. Sounds to under the table for my liking.

Since the exhibitor knows what his VPF costs are, why does it seem so difficult for him to be able to work that fee into the rental cost? And not for nuthin, but if I were renting a facility and it started to sound like it was turning into some kind of a back room, unorthodox deal, I am with Marcel on this -- find a venue that is more proactive in wanting to get you up on the screen and work with you to that end, not throw obstacles in your way. IMHO, VFP issues shouldn't need to be your concern.

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1943
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
Registered: Apr 2011


 - posted 07-08-2017 01:01 PM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The "sneak past" issue bothers me; if these folks are operating on an admittedly sneaky basis, what else is there to worry about and what will this chap be involving himself in that he may not be able to deal with?

We're now suing X for doing Y and if you were involved guess what happens then?

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Leslie Hartmier
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 100
From: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Registered: Jul 2012


 - posted 07-08-2017 03:41 PM      Profile for Leslie Hartmier   Email Leslie Hartmier   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If I may chime in, I would recommend that you get everything in writing, and frankly, if Cinedigm is the VPF monitor, there is nothing wrong with contacting them to ask about options for running your presentation on a VPF-enabled house. At worst, they will not respond.

As for the HDMI/alternative content, I can state that all activity is logged on what the server/projector is up to (sometimes just being pulled from the server by the NOC nightly, sometimes a proxy server polls the machines to pull and collate the logs), including running content via HDMI/DVI/etc. If nothing else, it will state what input was used, how long it was in use/active, and depending on the VPF contract, that is forbidden, and subject to being disconnected from the VPF.

Now, I am not saying that you running your content WILL do a horrible thing, nor am I going on record to inform anyone as to what the VPF agreements my employers are involved with say in this regard, but I am saying that I am aware of contracts that do explicitly forbid non-VPF content from running on digital cinema devices via HDMI/DVI/etc, and I am aware of contracts that do not explicitly forbid non-VPF content from running on digital cinema devices via HDMI/DVI/etc (though I will point out that I am not aware of any VPF contracts that explicitly permit that).

To be clear, the server WILL record that alternative inputs were used, and if examined (or an alert is set when the NOC systems run through the logs), it will come out, including the length of time it was in use.

Do NOT attempt to sneak it past. It IS recorded, and what you would be betting on is that the NOC doesn't see it.

In some locations, we have NEC Nighthawks or Christie Roadsters that we would use for alternative content, solely for alternative content.

Last little bit I will point out, and it is really quite mean of me: it's not your problem if you violate the VPF, as it doesn't have anything to do with YOU specifically. The theatre is required to keep all their ducks in a row as regards the VPF, and we get approached all the time to run content, and the VPF is our problem, not the renters, so it is our responsibility to follow the rules (which we do, thank you. [Smile] ).

My recommendation is to ask the manager AND Cinedigm (if you can) if it is permitted to run your content on DCP or DVD/Blu-ray, and get it in writing. There is NOTHING wrong with you asking when their VPF runs out. It is not a thing they would put on their website, or tack a printout of above their box office, but it is not super-secret information. I imagine the number of non-industry people who know or care about the VPF approaches zero, but "Hey, when will it be possible to run my content on your machines without someone getting grumpy?" is a legitimate question.

Have a great day,

Leslie

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Carsten Kurz
Film God

Posts: 3681
From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
Registered: Aug 2009


 - posted 07-08-2017 06:05 PM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Frank Angel
In the end, isn't the payment of VPF the responsibility of the theatre? Seems absurd that the theatre would offer the facility for rentals and not be able to do so with a firm rental offer price.
Quoted from the link Guy cited above, http://www.independentcinemas.com.au/virtual-print-fee-program :

'IF YOU ARE A FILM SUPPLIER WISHING TO CONFIRM A FILM BOOKING AT A PARTICIPATING ICA CINEMA YOU MUST FIRST MAKE YOUR VPF PAYMENT TO CINEDIGM OR SIGN A LONG TERM CONTRACT. PLEASE CONTACT DIANE ANSELMO danselmo@cinedigm.com OR CALL HER ON +1 (323) 872-5503'

Besides that, there are many rental options that do not include showings of custom, non-VPF-managed content. This certainly is a special situation since it is not too common that private Guy Burns shows up at your cinema with his homebrew DCP.
Wondering how VPF financed cinemas deal with things like film festivals and the like.
Maybe they simply don't.

- Carsten

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Guy Burns
Film Handler

Posts: 15
From: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Registered: Jun 2017


 - posted 07-09-2017 01:31 AM      Profile for Guy Burns   Email Guy Burns   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Thanks everyone, for the very informative responses. And there's no need to apologise, Carsten. You've been extraordinarily helpful. I never complain about learning new skills, such as creating DCPs.

I think I'll ring Cinedgm and ask a few questions. Sometimes these organisations are helpful to little guys. When I rang AACSLA sometime back to enquire about obtaining a license for replicating my AVs on Blu-ray, they were very helpful on the phone, and in several subsequent emails. So maybe Cinedgm will be the same.

To explain what I'm doing in more detail, for those who were unsure of my intent… I put together a book about my grandfather's time in Western Queensland in the 1950s, and came across a fellow who ran the picture theatre. He explained in detail how it worked back then. See pages 208-209 of…

http://www.mediafire.com/file/3xpuodngt8eph4x/1950s_Pictures.pdf

The Before Interval section consisted of newsreels, cartoons, shorts, ads and so on, then a cigarette girl came around, then the main feature. That gave me the idea of running movie nights at home in the style of the 1950s. So I put a home theatre together, the Jenny Wren Movie House…

http://www.mediafire.com/file/wm1yvs794x19kr5/The_Magic_Begins_2017.pdf

The home theatre is also a test bed for my AVs.

My plan at the local cinema, is a cross between going to the pictures in the 1950s, and a slide night. For the week preceding the presentation, I'd like to have cinema ads before all the movies. A still will cost me $50, but I want to make a proper trailer. What the cinema does now before each movie, is, with the lights partly on…
  • Show stills of local businesses (jpegs) accompanied by music. The stills just cycle through a sequence. I don't know how they are projected.
  • Then there might be one of two local video ads. Again, I don't know the projection details.
  • Then the lights are dimmed, and the Hollywood trailers start, followed by the movie.
I hope to include a trailer of my AVs somewhere in the above.

Before Interval
On the actual night, there'll be a Before Interval section, but it won't have cartoons, or newsreels – they wouldn't fit. Instead, it might have…
  • one of my shorter AVs;
  • a couple of shorts from anyone who wants to see their production on the big screen (but they'll have to be of general interest and good quality)
  • a couple of 5-minute slide-type presentations, where a person gets up on stage with a microphone and talks about their recent hike, or whatever. This part may not be possible because I have yet to work out how to control a Blu-ray (or DCP) so that still-images stop and start via a remote control.
Interval
During interval I'll arrange for the theatre to open their wine bar. No cigarette girl, unfortunately. Bugger!

Main AV
After interval will be the main AV, followed by nibbles at the restaurant next door – if I can convince them to open.

So, that's my little project. I've uploaded the final credit sequence from one of my AVs (reduced to 720P), if anyone is interested to see the type of thing I do…

http://www.mediafire.com/file/hsxrjsjd34iehlx/This_Magnificent_Inheritance_%28Credits%29.mp4

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Frank Cox
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1943
From: Melville Saskatchewan Canada
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 - posted 07-09-2017 01:58 AM      Profile for Frank Cox   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Cox   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Guy Burns
Blu-ray (or DCP) so that still-images stop and start via a remote control.
There is a pause button on the cinema server control screen, and you can log into that control screen using vnc from a laptop. So you can just hit the pause button from your laptop.

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Carsten Kurz
Film God

Posts: 3681
From: Cologne, NRW, Germany
Registered: Aug 2009


 - posted 07-09-2017 05:43 AM      Profile for Carsten Kurz   Email Carsten Kurz   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The advertising is certainly not subject to any VPF complications. I don't know how Cinedigm tells between ads and features - I can only guess they sort out DCPs with short runtimes. Unless this cinema is really bugged by the VPF deal, I am pretty sure they show their ads in DCP format as well. So, giving them a DCP trailer should be no issue. This would also be your test that your DCP skills went to something. I would suggest you also contact the local newspapers, radio stations, etc. If they start communicating, it will certainly help in getting attention and getting the cinema manager/staff to be more helpful in getting this thing off the ground.

The best way to do interactive slides is usually using a notebook and a remote control for Powerpoint or Keynote. Latest versions of Acrobat Reader also have a presentation mode where you can set up slides as a multipage PDF, and going through the slides with a PP remote or mouse click in full screen. Yes, that involves some tech testing on site, remote range, WLAN setup, etc. However, you may find that at some point the manager or projectionist at this site (if there is one left) may be more helpful than you think. Either because they did things like this before, or because they may be interested in learning how to do it for future rentals. If there is a projectionist, you should try to locate him and chat a bit. Of course, they are usually anxious to have people in the booth that fiddle with their precious equipment, so, always let HIM/HER talk first and be seriously impressed ;-)

- Carsten

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