Profile: Change is Good
How a terrible accident a decade ago turned software engineer and government worker Jith Paul into a key player in Ottawa’s film industry
By Kyle Brown, Ottawa Magazine, May 2013
Many filmmakers would say they started on their path the second they picked up a camera as a child. Others realized if it the first time they watched a film that truly inspired them. For Jith Paul, however, it was the injury to a vertebra in his back that launched his film career. In 2002, Paul, who was working as a software engineer at the time, fell while working out at home, injuring his back. In the aftermath, he worked with an occupational therapist to relearn how to walk. But as he took care of his physical recovery, Paul’s mental focus was on how to follow his dream of working in the film industry.
Now, just over a decade later, the 41-year-old finds himself overseeing–he jokingly labels himself president, CEO and janitor–Treepot Media, one of Ottawa’s fastest-growing production companies. But how does someone make such a drastic jump–from a secure job consulting with the government to a player in the notoriously unpredictable film industry? ”Sometimes you need a catalyst to reorganize your priorities in life,” Paul says. ”And after the back injury, I decided maybe film was something I wanted to try more than just as a whim.”
In 2007, Paul entered the broadcasting program at Algonquin College. Two years later, a new graduate with limited experience and no real job prospects on the horizon, he lucked out by meeting Heather Farmer, who organized the Indie Attic. This weekly event took place at the now defunct Cajun Attic, a small second-floor music venue in the Market. On Wednesday nights, independent bands used the place as a space to jam. Public admission was free, and Paul, along with anyone else who had a DSLR camera, was able to shoot the performances. The bands quickly realized the benefit of having free videos of their gigs and linked to them through their social media pages. Paul collected and organized these videos, facilitated a stream through iTunes, and dubbed the project Treepot TV.
In 2010, he officially founded Treepot Media, a production company focused on producing and collaborating on documentaries, short films, and music, even and promotional videos. (The first film he produced won at the 2011 Ottawa International Film Festival and was a semi-finalist in the CBC Short Film Face-off competition.)
In the time since, Paul has increasingly turned his focus to creating documentaries that deal with social injustice on a global scale, all the while continuing to stoke the flames of Ottawa’s film community. Over the past two years, he has orchestrated a number of independent showcases, offering local filmmakers a chance to come together and present their work to the community. These showcases have played at the Mayfair and Bytowne, as well as a the Centretown Movies in the Park series.
If local filmmakers are going to succeed, he says, a system is needed for encouraging and fostering collaboration, learning and creativity among all the players. ”One of the things that really frustrated me when I first graduated was that some filmmakers quickly slipped into thinking, Okay, we just need a job to pay the bills. It frustrated me that people would just give up that reality,” says Paul. ”So it becomes about a community that works together and helps each other so that we can succeed.”
That commitment to community and collaboration rings true in Paul’s most recent project, an interesting take on the chain-letter tradition. Currently referred to as the Cliffhanger Project, it will see six local filmmakers each produce a scene to collaboratively create one feature film. The catch? Filmmakers will have only two months to produce their scene, and they can’t begin until they see the scene before theirs (they must continue the story from where the previous scene left off). Explains Paul: “The filmmakers will have complete creative control over their chapter, with the exception that they have to follow the game–you have to continue the story. You can conceivably kill everyone off, but where’s the fun in that?” The first of these webisodes will be posted in May. As the community balloons, many kcal filmmakers have become quite skilled in the art of making shorts. But Paul hopes this project will push the envelope and encourage creators to consider producing features as well.
As for his own goals, Paul hopes to shoot on film one day. ”There’s something romantic about not knowing how something will turn out until you develop it,” he says, noting that he hopes to convert Algebra, his directorial debut, to film. (The digital short took the prize for Best Technical Quality at Ottawa’s Digi60 Festival in December.) Mostly, though, he simply looks forward to continuing to tell stories. ”I love that the Biography channel’s tagline is Everyone’s Life Is a Biography. Whether its fiction or reality, I like to tell stories,” he says. ”Visual storytelling is what filmmaking is, at the end of the day. Once you strip off all the technology and all the administrative stuff, it’s just a very old tradition.”REF: http://www.ottawamagazine.com/magazine/2013/04/22/may-issue/#more-48868 http://ca.zinio.com/reader.jsp?issue=416261162&o=int&prev=sub&p=14
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Treepot DCP Guide
I recently directed my first short film al-gebr(a), about a painter grappling with the loss of his eyesight. I’m currently submitting it to festivals around the world and I notice that quite a few of them listed DCP as an exhibition format alongside HDCam, DigiBeta and 35mm film. Since the technology is fairly new, and since most major studios have switched to DCP as the delivery mechanism for their films, I thought I would research what it took to create and test a standards-compliant DCP.
If you are new to DCP, the Wikipedia page for Digital Cinema Package is a good primer.
I learned several lessons putting together and testing my DCP so I thought I’d document my workflow, primarily for indie filmmakers who feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and different workflows available on the internet. This is by no means a definitive guide; just documentation related to a real world practical example.
First off, since I’m so proud of what my team of brilliant actors and crew accomplished here’s the trailer for the short film al-gebr(a). I can hardly wait for the film to appear on a festival screen near you!
So back to the task at hand: The goal with this example is to create a DCP with 2k scope image (1:2.39 aspect ratio) image and a dolby 5.1 soundtrack from an edit of 5k/4k footage in Premiere Pro CS6 running on a Mac.
Step 1: Generate a sequence of images to feed OpenDCP
There’s two ways to do this. One is to create a series of 16 bit TIFF images and then use OpenDCP to convert those into a stream of 12 bit xyz jpeg 2000 files as specified in the DCP standard. One thing I noticed is that TIFF images created directly from Premiere Pro via the Adobe Media Encoder were 8 bit. I did some research (using Google) and it doesn’t look like there is a way to generate 16 bit TIFFs directly from Premiere. I ended up creating a dynamic link to the Premiere Pro sequence then exporting a TIFF sequence in After Effects. A couple of things to watch out for here. Make sure your composition has a bit depth of 16 bits per channel, and in the Output Module Settings, choose Trillions of Colors rather than Millions of Colors. Any other combinations will give you an 8 bit TIFF sequence. I am creating a 2k scope DCP so my images need to be 2048×858 to maintain the correct aspect ratio.
It is a good idea to check one of the resting images by opening it up in photoshop to make sure that the dimensions and bit-depth are set correctly.
At a recent SAW Video DCP workshop Edward Folger provided a link to a free JPEG 2000 plug-in for Premiere Pro from a company called fnorware j2k that can be used to create the sequence of JPEG 2000 files directly from Premiere. That eliminates the TIFF step entirely. Check for a link under Tools along the right side of this post. This saves a lot of time and also provides the ability to create a lossless JPEG 2000 master of your sequence for archival.
Step 2: Generate Digital Cinema JPEG 2000 Sequence in OpenDCP
If you use the j2k plug-in to generate Digital Cinema JPEG 2000 files you can skip this step. If not, you can use OpenDCP to convert either Lossless JPEG 2000 files or 16-bit TIFF files (I have also read that it works with DPX files) to Digital Cinema JPEG 2000 files. The process is quite straightforward but can take quite a while depending on the length of your movie and the processing power at your disposal.
Step 3: Create MXF files of Video and Audio
Next point OpenDCP at your JPEG 2000 files and audio files (you need to split out each channel in to a separate 48/24 mono track, in my case the 5.1 mix is in 6 files clearly labelled). I didn’t have subtitles to deal with for my example.
Step 4: Title Generator
Next hit the DCP tab, use the Title Generator to set the various components and metadata related to the project. Each one of these items affects the name of the DCP package and will let the projectionist and the projector easily identify whether this is a short, a feature, the dimensions of the frame, whether it’s 2D/3D etc.
Step 5: Generate the DCP
This step combines the image sequence and audio files to create the DCP. It won’t take long and when you are done you end up with a folder containing the MXF files containing audio and video and some XML files with metadata.
Step 6: Create transport drives
The next step is to copy these files on to removable media that you can then ship to a festival or take to a theatre for testing. There are several options here. I did read that some servers had problems with bus powered drives. There are many tutorials out there that state HFS drives work in most cases. Some state that they have to be ext2 or ext3. Some even report success with NTFS drives. I created bus powered exFAT and HFS drives to begin with, then subsequently purchased the Paragon extFS plugin (link on the right hand column of this post) to create an bus powered ext2 one.
Step 7: Testing
The best test is to actually take your drive to a cinema and try it out on a real DCP server. I first tested the DCP at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa. This theatre uses a Dolby DSS100 server and a Christie 2K Projector. The exFAT drive didn’t work. The bus powered HFS formatted drive did! The picture was nice and crisp, the audio was great and the projection had the correct aspect ratio and used up the entire screen.
My next test was at the Bytowne Cinema, which employs a doremi DCP-2K4 server and a Christie 2k projector. Here the HFS bus powered drive didn’t work at all but the bus powered ext2 drive did. I suspect the ext2 drive would have worked at the Mayfair too, had I had that done at the time. From all reports that is the format (or the more recent ext3) that hollywood movies are formatted and delivered.
Heading down to the local cinema to test your DCP is not always the most effective (although it’s the most sure-fire) way to test your project. There are a few software tools you can use as well. I couldn’t find an open source one and they are all quite costly. I have included links to easyDCP and DCP Player, two of the more popular ones I found out about at the SAW Video workshop. The screenshots below are from the demo versions available on their sites just to prove that they actually work.
That’s it. It’s a summary of what I learned on my first DCP creation adventure. Use this info to help in the creation and testing of your DCPs and please use the comments section below to let me know of any tricks and tools you have come across.
Thanks for the recommendation, Edward Folger. The Stereoscopic Player from 3dtv works on a Mac via VMWare and is reasonably priced at 39 euros. The demo version can be used to view the first 5 minutes of your film. A tip: click on “Monoscopic Left Image Only” to view 2D material.
I heard back from the Empire theatre chain. They run Barco projectors and hardware. I plan to test the DCPs out at one of their theatres soon.
I posted a link to the guide on RedUser.net as well.
About the Author
Jith Paul is a filmmaker based in Ottawa, Canada, producer, director, cinematographer and editor of several award-winning short films, documentaries and music videos. Most recently he directed al-grbr(a), a short film about a painter grappling with the loss of his sight, a award winners at the Digi60 Filmmaker’s Festival 2012.
This guide relies heavily on material from the following tutorials and seminars.
SAW Video seminar on DCP by Edward Folger
DCP Wikipedia Page
DCP Info (Academy Spec)
I am fortunate to live in a city with a couple of indie-friendly cinemas that graciously permitted me to test out my DCP. I wouldn’t be able to confidently state that this workflow works without their participation so I am including links to them.
Also special thanks to Josh Stafford and Marcus Lemm.
Links to useful tools.
Faunhofer’s EasyDCP Player+
3DTV’s Steroscopic Player
Source: Algonquin Times
A recent Algonquin TV broadcasting graduate, Paul got involved in the Ottawa independent film scene as part of a “five-year experiment.”
Although he has always been passionate about film, the local filmmaker first graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor’s in engineering. After working a of couple small jobs in Toronto he moved to Ottawa, enrolled at Algonquin and refocused his career by starting his own production company called Treepot Media.
“Sometimes you have to figure out if it’s more than just a whim,” said Paul, “just dive in with two feet and see what happens.”
According to Paul, Ottawa is a very “indie-friendly” city.
While cities like Toronto and Montreal are better equipped to house bigger TV productions, Ottawa fosters more creative short-term works.
The accessibility to technology has led to a real “explosion” of independent movies in the past year or two, said Paul.
But the process is considerably different from filming a Hollywood production.
“As an indie filmmaker you do everything, you wear a lot of hats,” said Paul.
“I would find it quite an adjustment to have to wait for someone to move a stool, because that’s art department and not electric.”
In fact, Paul and Ayari both worked on each other’s films, with Ayari acting as director of photography on al-gebr(a) and Paul as assistant camera on Thirteen Downs, the beautifully shot feature film that topped off the Double Bill.
Written and produced by Karim Ayari, co-founder of Splitklips, another local production company, Thirteen Downs premiered at the Ottawa International Film Festival.
Shot in Wakefield, the feature-film tells the chilling tale of a family’s unravelling secrets.
“The idea behind this movie at first was to make a feature film that I could use to eventually get funding to make other bigger movies with bigger casts,” he said after the show, highlighting the financial difficulties often faced by independent filmmakers.
Ayari said he is very proud of what he was able to create in a limited amount of time — the movie was shot in one week and the cottage was booked one day before shooting began.
“I think it says a lot about what you can do with just adrenaline and passion,” said Ayari.
With extremely tight budgets, cast and crew are often working for free, said Paul — or next to it. So what motivates these actors, directors and crewmembers to dedicate entire weekends to free labour?
“It’s my biggest passion,” said actor Sasha Chichagov, who played the leading role in al-gebr(a) — a visual artists who loses his sight.
“Anything that has something to do with film and acting, I will never say no.”
Although he started acting at 18, Chichagov had to put his passion on the backburner.
His day job: he is a scientist, who will soon be setting out on an expedition on Baffin Island to study glaciers.