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“A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box. It’s someone who discards conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. It’s someone who looks at the edge and wonders what’s beyond. It’s someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don’t follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity”.
-Bruce Schneier

Coming attractions!

Filed under: Project-archive — mgrusin at 10:27 pm on Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dave Riepe and Jeanine Fritz have turned the Boulder Outdoor Cinema into a local institution.  Every summer on Friday and Saturday nights, they show great current and classic movies on the back of a downtown building.  You bring your own chair (or couch or blanket), and they supply the movie, popcorn, opening acts, the works.  A number of years ago, Dave asked me if it were possible to show trailers of the coming attractions before the feature, just like a “real” movie theater.  It sounded like a fun project, and I was happy to give it a shot.

Like many problems, this one sounds simple at first, but becomes increasingly complicated the deeper you get into it.  Dave wanted to show trailers for the next three movies before the main feature.  If you think about this for a minute, you realize that you’ll be repeating each trailers a number of times – the first week you’d show trailers 1, 2 and 3.  Next week you’d show 2, 3 and 4, the next week 3, 4 and 5, etc.  You could just generate individual sequences with all the trailers you need, but that’s (A) a lot of editing work, and (B) all that repeated data takes up a lot of space, requiring multiple DVDs to get through the season.  Another problem is that some movies are shown in widescreen, and some are shown in fullscreen.  The projector is framed differently for each type of movie, and reframing the projector between the coming attractions and the feature wouldn’t be professional.  Add a number of other technical, programmatic and legal issues, and you can see how this became a very interesting project.

After a few years of refinement (and thanks to some very clever software), all of these problems were neatly solved.  The DVD specification allows for a limited amount of primitive programming, so to solve the multiple-instance problem, mini-playlists were developed.  These allow one instance of each trailer to be placed on the DVD, but each trailer can be accessed as many times as necessary.  With further work, this also allowed the coming attractions to be shown in widescreen or fullscreen as the main feature requires.

The current iteration of the Coming Attractions DVD is highly automated, to make the projectionist’s life as easy as possible.  It allows the operator to set up the night’s show with one click, automatically pauses on black, starts the show with another click, automatically plays the 3 trailers, plays a short informational animation about the outdoor cinema, pauses on black again while the operator switches to the main show, and later on plays a longer animation for the intermission.  All from one DVD that is used all summer long.

A few words about tools:  for general video capture and editing, I use the Video Toaster from Newtek.  It’s billed as the fastest editing system in the world (which it usually lives up to), and it’s iphone-easy to use.  My DVD authoring software of choice is DVD-lab PRO, from a small company called Mediachance.  Unlike most drag-and-drop DVD software, which typically limit you to the few templates they’ve provided, DVD-lab exposes every level of the DVD specification to the user, while still being intuitive to use (which is quite a trick).  It’s a bit more expensive than the cheapest ones, but for a few hundred dollars its feature set is competitive with high-end packages costing ten thousand or more.  It’s that good, and highly recommended for serious DVD authoring.

Another interesting aspect of this project was obtaining the trailers themselves.  Most DVDs will throw the theatrical trailer on as a bonus feature.  But some don’t, which often happens when they’re not sold as a “special edition” disc.  What’s worse is that a DVD will sometimes include trailers for other movies, but not bother including the trailer for the film on that disc, which often leads to a (usually) fruitless hunt through other discs trying to find the trailer for this one.  And before the days of YouTube, Apple and other trailer sites on the internet, there weren’t a lot of options if you couldn’t put your hands on a specific trailer.  Since I have a strong dose of “the show must go on”, there were a number of times in the early days when given no other option I sat down and handmade a trailer for the movie in front of me.  It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and I’m especially proud of those editing jobs.

See you at the movies!

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