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Sundance begins charging filmmakers for pre-screening tech checks

The marquee at the Egyptian Theater in Park City where reading takes place "Sundance Film Festival 19.-29.  January 2023."Courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

Among the changes Sundance filmmakers are encountering this year at the festival’s first in-person edition since 2020 is one that takes place behind the scenes and before the theater doors open. For the first time, Sundance is charging filmmakers a fee for guaranteed technical checks prior to their screenings.

Tech checks involve showing a DCP or copy in a theater to check the sound, image, subtitles and other aspects of the projection and sound before showing it to an audience.

Revealed in emails sent to film crews requesting technical reviews, the new policy includes Sundance assigning “dedicated staff for support”. 30-minute off-the-scenes samples (ie early morning or late evening) are $1,250. 15-minute off-hours samples are $500. And guaranteed five- to 10-minute pre-opening spot checks cost $750. “If you’re late and miss the window, you’ll still be charged. No guarantee the lights are off for that check can’t delay opening the house for the tech check,” the E said -Mail.)

Not all tech checks have to be paid for. The Sundance email begins by inviting filmmakers to arrive at the theaters one hour before the show and request courtesy technical reviews from theater staff. The email also emphasizes Sundance’s technical protocols: “All exhibit materials go through a rigorous inspection process before ever being accepted into a theater. All of our cinemas are set up and calibrated by the same team of Digital Cinema and Dolby engineers. Projectionists test all content in the theater on screen and set an output volume based on the Dolby reference.”

filmmakers contacted Sundance regarding the new policy and received the following response from a representative:

In the past, Sundance has endeavored to accommodate filmmakers’ requests to see their films on screens prior to their premiere. Back-to-back screening schedules allowed filmmakers to preview and listen just prior to the screening prior to the opening of the house whenever possible. This year we tested a new process to offer tech checks to films that would like to have their film tech checked outside of their slot for a fee, as this requires additional resources from the festival.

Our goal is to ensure filmmakers have the best exhibiting experience at Sundance.

Sergio Andrés Lobo-Navia, a film festival technical director who regularly reports on exhibition and DCP creation technology, was asked to comment on the guidelines and festival tech checks in general filmmakers, writes: “The whole point of a big tech team at Sundance is to have everything checked upfront and calibrated to perfection. In theory, if they’re doing their job right, filmmakers shouldn’t have to worry about technical checks, except maybe for a volume increase, which they can usually discuss with a property manager.”

Sundance policy is not entirely unique. At the Toronto International Film Festival, for example, filmmakers are allowed to attend the usual festival theater technical checks before screenings, but filmmakers who want either 30-minute slots or full runs at the festival’s three largest venues must pay.

Nonetheless, Sundance’s new policy of setting a price for guaranteed tech checks at all venues has drawn criticism. A former veteran who has worked on several Sundance-picked films and wishes to remain anonymous wrote: “For most of the films screened at Sundance, this is the first time they have been screened in front of a large audience. A final technical check gives the filmmakers the assurance that no issues have been encountered throughout the pipeline and that the film will look and sound exactly as they envisioned it. In an ideal world, all films would be given the opportunity to be fully played through before their premiere. While I know this wouldn’t be possible, the idea of ​​treating a tech check as a luxury that requires an additional fee feels like an outrageous cash grab and goes against the spirit of the festival. This is a standard practice that should be built into operating costs.”

While other filmmakers, producers and post-supervisors attending the festival also criticized the policy, some, such as one producer of a competition film, were not even aware of it. And in general, the filmmakers we spoke to reported no problems getting their free courtesy checks before screenings.

“Nobody on a tech team wants to do a tech check with filmmakers,” concludes Lobo-Navia. “We usually do them to reassure studios and other VIP filmmakers (opening, closing, middle pieces, etc.). Offering this as a fee gives the illusion that this is necessary and required to ensure you have impeccable screening. I would Not Advise any filmmaker to pay such an outrageous fee. The money is better spent viewing the full DCP/exhibition footage in a theater before your film ever arrives in Park City. This should be one of the final steps in your post-production process.”

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