Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Authoring the Dead Hunt Screener



Now that Dead Hunt is in the can, we need to make it available to had a pretty good track record with distribution--Don Dohler's reputation plays no small role in that--but we're hoping we have some choices, or at least one really good deal.

I asked Don if I could create the DVD screener that we send out (I've wanted to do that since I got my first DVD burner). He agreed, so I dove in. As I said, I already had a burner, but I didn't like the picture quality of the OEM encoder (Nero), so I had to find a better encoder and an authoring tool. By the way, encoding as I use it here refers to converting the digital video of our movie, which is in Quicktime, to MPEG--the format needed for DVDs. After some online research, I found a solid and low-budget solution in DVD Lab and Tmpeg. Let the fun begin!

I wanted to have a really cool menu (see above--click on image to view the full-motion menu), sort of a collage of all the characters showing really cool expressions, and awesome music. I also wanted the movie to look crisp--at least as good as the edited master stored in Adobe Premiere (That's where Tmpeg came in). And we all wanted the box art to look great, too. That job fell to Rob Long, who did a wonderful job. For the music, I picked my favorite segment from Justin Timpane's score. It actually took only a couple of days to create that cool menu, with the cool music, and the crisp-looking picture. The rest of the month was spent trying to get the resulting DVD to play on Don's DVD player--a first or second generation player. Oh, it played in my new player, all 15 attempts played fine in there; some even played fine in a slightly older player I have, but about 3/4 of the way through, Don's player would choke and die.

So, it was back to the internet to find some answers. The makers of DVD Lab have a forum that provided a lot of help. And VideoHelp.com proved an invaluable resource, complete with some free helper tools. The deal, as I discovered, is that "burning" DVDs on a computer isn't the same process used by mass distributors. They use glass masters, which are more precise. Not to worry, however, most newer DVD players easily play the DVD-R, +R, etc. formats; it's just that older players may have trouble, and since we wanted to make sure potential distributors would be able to view our movie, it had to play on as many players as possible. That's when media and hardware came into the mix.

If you look on VideoHelp, you'll see a huge list of media reviews; that is, reviews of the various brands of blank DVD-Rs you can buy. Apparently, not all brands play well with old players, or with all burners. In fact, not all burners create media that plays well with all players. It feels like a crap shoot.

Ultimately, I discovered that my original burner (an internal Lite-on) was the culprit. When I burned the image to a newer external (also a Lite-on), it played fine in Don's player. Problem solved.