IU Cinema, UITS partnership benefits independent filmmakers, university

Renowned filmmaker and director Werner Herzog is one of the first to benefit from a new collaboration at Indiana University.

IU Cinema and the university’s Advanced Visualization Lab worked together to create what’s referred to in the industry as a “digital cinema package” for three of Herzog’s films. A digital cinema package — or “DCP” for short — essentially packages and stores a film’s audio, image and data information on a hard drive. It doesn’t degrade like actual film, and is easier to ship and store.

Such packages are important in the industry because, by the end of 2012, an estimated 80 percent of all movie screens in the U.S. will use only digital equipment, limiting the projection of light through celluloid film to a shrinking minority of theaters. That means filmmakers have to keep up with technology in order to see their work on the big screen.

Advanced Visualization Lab arts and media team leader Chris Eller with the “beastly” machine he uses to create digital cinema packages in cooperation with IU Cinema.

Creation of DCPs for large studios and films is generally contracted to big-time industry names such as Technicolor or Deluxe, and can cost thousands of dollars. But the partnership between IU Cinema and the Advanced Visualization Lab means IU can now create digital cinema packages for independent filmmakers, saving them money while simultaneously generating goodwill for the university.

The men behind the curtain are IU Cinema director Jon Vickers and Chris Eller, leader of the advanced digital arts and media team within University Information Technology Services’ Advanced Visualization Lab.

A few months ago, Vickers approached Werner Herzog Film Produktion about helping it create DCPs after learning the company was in the process of restoring six of Herzog’s films for a European BluRay release. He and Eller had already ironed out the technology by creating digital cinema packages for IU student filmmakers — including those who studied 3D film production under Eller — and knew they could do the work for Herzog.

“I knew immediately this would be a perfect opportunity for us,” Vickers said. “There were no plans for creating DCPs for these titles. Our offer was met with a little trepidation mixed with much enthusiasm and gratitude.”

IU generated a dozen digital cinema packages in both German and English for three Herzog films: “Fitzcarraldo,” “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and “Aguirre, Wrath of God.”

“It’s like peeking behind the curtain,” said Eller, who did much of the work to package Herzog’s films himself. “You really get a sense of these filmmakers’ efforts. It’s not the files, but what the files represent. And when somebody is successful in storytelling, we can say we played a role.”

The end result of working with Herzog on this behind-the-scenes project? “A very pleased and vocal filmmaker who is willing to spread goodwill about Indiana University,” Vickers said.

The relationship between IU Cinema and the Advanced Visualization Lab will also benefit the university community in other ways. Eller’s team plans to begin creating digital cinema packages for old and damaged films identified by IU’s Media Preservation Initiative, an effort that began in 2009 to identify, document and preserve the more than 500,000 audio, video and film items housed on the Bloomington campus. Those films can then be screened at IU Cinema.

“Many of the films they’re preserving are very fragile, and have experienced shrinkage,” Eller said, pointing out that such deterioration means print film cannot be played back without becoming seriously damaged. “Indiana University is a teaching institution, and to teach, you need to preserve. Film degenerates every time you play it, and DCPs don’t.”

Meanwhile, Vickers said, he’ll be keeping his eyes open for other chances to help independent filmmakers.

“We’ll continue to seek similar opportunities in the industry, as long as it remains ‘on mission’ for the cinema and our campus partners,” he said. “These strategies not only provide excellent opportunities for national exposure, they also build lasting relationships with the filmmakers and small production companies.”

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