10+ years ago, when I was preparing Sita Sings the Blues for film festivals, I had to make heavy, unwieldy, and expensive 35mm film prints. Thankfully I don’t have to do that any more. Instead, today’s cinemas use DCP (for Digital Cinema Package) hard drives. These take advantage of advances in digital technology, as fucked up by a film industry that can’t cope with advances in digital technology. Thanks to the insane and byzantine encoding protocols designed by Hollywood to thwart what computers are inherently best at – copying – making DCPs has long been shrouded in mystery and prohibitive costs.
Since I’m cheap and have practically no income these days, I didn’t want to use a DCP-making service (called a “lab,” as if). Instead, after begging around for favors, and doing much research online, I made them myself.
I used DCP-o-matic. It’s Free Software, created and maintained by Carl Hetherington, to whom I and many other small filmmakers owe a debt of gratitude. I can’t recommend it enough. Apparently many screening venues now use it themselves. I used it to make 2K and 4K DCP files, and English and French “version files” for subtitles. I also burned in English subtitles over “Paroles, Paroles.”
Once I made the DCPs, I had to get them onto portable hard drives, which is no small task. You can’t just drag-and-drop copy them like normal files. Fortunately I found DCP Transfer. It’s not Free, but it is affordable – $25 a month (ugh, subscriptions) plus a $25 initial charge. Today my subscription auto-renewed, just in time for me to be gone for a month, so I contacted the company to cancel and they refunded it. That’s good service! The software works great, too. I had no problem formatting and copying DCPs onto most external hard drives. The exception was flash drives, aka thumb drives; these overheated and usually failed. It’s a pity, since flash drives are so small and convenient. But I found some relatively inexpensive 320GB USB3 portable hard drives, and made enough DCPs to satisfy film festivals.
Whatever my complaints about DCP, it sure beats making (and distributing!) film.
This is consistent with the film’s opening credits:
and end credits:
Why? Who? WTF?
I made Sita Sings the Blues almost entirely alone. That caused an unforeseen problem when it came time to send the film out into the world: I was usually the only person who could represent it at festivals. Other films have producers who aren’t also the director. Other films also have crews, staff, multiple executives, and money. As SSTB’s only executive, I couldn’t be everywhere at once. Often I couldn’t be anywhere at once, due to having a life that includes occasional crises. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I could send an actor like Reena Shah, or musician like Todd Michaelesen, or narrator like Aseem Chaabra, or sound designer Greg Sextro. But most of the time it meant there was no human being representing the film when it screened at film festivals.
I’m even more hermitic now, and made Seder-Masochism in splendid isolation in Central Illinois. This time I worked with no actors, narrators, or musicians. I did try recording some friends discussing Passover, but that experiment didn’t make it into the film. Greg Sextro is again doing the sound design, but we’re working remotely (he’s in New York).
I like working alone. But I don’t like going to film festivals alone. And sometimes, I can’t go at all.
Such as right now: in June, Seder-Masochism is having its world premiere at Annecy, but I have to stay in Illinois and get surgery. I have an orange-sized fibroid in my cervix, and finally get to have my uterus removed. (I’ve suffered a lifetime of debilitating periods, but was consistently instructed to just suck it up, buttercup; no doctor bothered looking for fibroids over the last 30 years in spite of my pain. But now that I’m almost menopausal, out it goes at last!)
Film festivals are “people” events, and having a human there helps bring attention to the film. The reason I want my film in festivals is to increase attention. The more attention, the better for the film, especially as a Free Culture project. So I want a producer with it at festivals.
Fortunately, Producer X has been with Seder-Masochism from the very beginning. After Sita’s festival years, I knew that credit would be built into my next film.
So who is Producer X?
Whoever I say it is.
She’ll see you in Annecy!
Thursday, Apr 21, 2016 7:30 PM EDT
IFC Center, New York, NY
You must purchase advance tickets for this event.
All singing! All dancing! All 40+ minutes of my feature-film-in-progress, Seder-Masochism! This is not the finished movie, but the core musical scenes animated in Flash. While I take a production break to learn new software to make the rest of the film, let’s watch all these crazy scenes together in a theater. Featuring:
Unsubtle phallic imagery!
Big thanks to my friends at GKIDS for making this happen.
Seder-Masochism is Nina Paley’s second feature film, currently in production. Like its predecessor Sita Sings the Blues, it’s an animated musical – but this time it’s based on the Passover story, the Book of Exodus. In spite of being an irreverent atheist, Nina is also a card-carrying Jew, entitling her to make scenes such as the now-famous This Land Is Mine:
Here are a few stills and animated gifs from the project:
Through this cinéma vérité documentary, you too can experience what it’s like to be a nobody on the red (actually blue) carpet, navigate ridiculous security theater, shake the hands of countless strangers, smile nervously, and above all, lose.
Featuring Nina Paley, Alistair Milne, Steven Beer, and dozens of celebrities and/or nobodies whose names I forget and whose permission I don’t have, so sue me. Camera: Nina Paley, with Steven Beer. Edited by Nina Paley in 2011.
Today I viewed a small art quilt show. Many of the quilts were quite beautiful. Still, it took my friend and I less than half an hour to view everything, on two floors. We spent no more than a few minutes contemplating each one, lingering longest on the ones we liked most, less on the ones we liked least. We weren’t in a hurry; a few minutes of attention was all we needed to spend to be satiated (I would have spent a bit more if touching the quilts was appropriate, but that seemed like a no-no).
These quilts took countless hours to make. I’d estimate about 20 hours for each piece, though that may be conservative (they were all smallish wall hangings – no bed-size quilts here, which take much longer). All those hours, so someone could look at it for a minute or two. How many people would have to attend to a quilt to “break even” the attention the artist put into it?
That I even frame a question like this means I’m thinking about attention economics. I ruminated on this concept a lot (before I knew there was a name for it) while working on Sita Sings the Blues. Usually the only investment in films people recognize is money. SSTB was ultra-low budget money-wise, but I gave it 3 years of near-constant attention. Every day I asked myself if “enough” people would view the finished product. My reckoning went something like this:
60 hrs/week (approx) x 156 weeks (3 years) = 9,360 attention hours
Finished film is 82 minutes long; add a few extra attention minutes to learn about before/discuss after rounds up to 90 minutes = 1.5 hours
9,360 attention-hours / 1.5 hrs attending time = 6,240 pairs of eyeballs
Therefore the film would need 6,240 viewers for me to “break even” on my attention investment. Today millions of people have seen SSTB, but at the time, 6,240 was a reasonable goal. Because of all the views of the film, I’ve turned a very large attention profit.
My daily comic strip, Mimi & Eunice, currently has about 1,200 subscribers (yay!). It takes me about 1/2 hour to produce a Mimi & Eunice strip; there’s also organizing them on my hard drive, uploading and scheduling them, and thinking about them for whatever reason. So I’ll err on the high side: 1 hour of my attention per strip. Let’s say the average viewer spends .5 minutes (30 seconds) attending to that day’s comic. 1,200 x .5 = 600 minutes = 10 hours. I’m getting a whopping 10-to-one attention profit on Mimi & Eunice! I’m rich!
Even if subscribers only attend for 15 seconds, I’m still getting back 5 times the attention I put into it. That’s a lot of profit!
Back to the quilts. An art quilt that takes 20 hours to make needs 1,200 people to view it for 1 minute each to break even. Of course, some individuals may spend much longer attending to a finished quilt – 10 minutes, say – while others will breeze past, barely glancing at it. I wonder what the attention profit margin is of the art quilts I saw today?
My own large art quilts are taking about 60 to 80 hours each to design and make. They’re currently running an attention deficit. But I have a plan….