Film technicians on challenges posed by OTT
While audiences are thrilled every time a film hits the OTT platform, the technical crew isn’t equally upbeat
In one of the scenes in Frozen—the highest-grossing animated film—you see the clear reflection of Olaf in Anna’s eyes. Thanks to such minute detailing, the film went on to bag the much-deserved Academy Award for Best Animated Film. In cinematographer Ramji’s case, the scenario is different. Ramji, who worked on Ponmagal Vandhal—the first big-ticket Tamil film to get a direct OTT release—rues that his hard work didn’t come through on the smaller screen.
“We had designed meticulous detailing in some scenes, but on the small screen, such things went unnoticed,” he bemoans. After spending years designing a film for the theatres, one has to now settle for the TV format. While the post-production team often scrambles to make appropriate changes, people like Ramji are not always happy. His complaint pertains to technical nuances. “From my first film till Otha Seruppu, I have gone to theatres personally to check two-minutes worth of visuals in order to judge the quality of the projection.
I would set the overall visual parameters according to the specifications in each theatre. For OTT releases, I’m unable to do this,” he says. Technicians such as Aadai cinematographer Vijay Karthik Kannan and digital cinema designer and colourist Balaji Gopal have been looking at ways to solve such problems. “There is no such thing as a perfect image,” begins Kannan, adding, “However, barriers like encoding crop up. OTT platforms should provide a testing space where the final output can be checked by us before the content gets uploaded.” Gopal notes that this allowance goes a long way in enhancing viewer experience. “To be honest, even theatres don’t project our intended quality.
However, we can alter it to some extent. Here, we get no say. The quality control team of streaming platforms has some standards, and if our content doesn’t meet it, we do get it for correction. However, after QC approval, once the content is mastered and uploaded, we want them to check with us on whether the final output is worthy of being presented.” Kannan elaborates on how this can be accomplished. He says that once the economics of a deal is finalised and the content is ready for uploading, the technicians should be given a two-minute sample clip.
“Let us envisage a portal where the filmmaking team can check the output and make changes if needed,” he says, adding, “Films on OTT have a longer lifespan, and so standardisation of content is of more importance.” OTT platforms are taking note. Netflix is employing adaptive streaming that delivers the highest quality possible based on the user’s internet speed. Other recent additions have been the use of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos technologies, and collaborations with set-top boxes, smartphone and television companies to provide optimum quality.
“Netflix even has a suggested list of cameras that they want their originals to be shot with in order to ensure maximum quality across various options. The quality of OTT filming is at par with theatrical projects. Look at the quality of Sacred Games or The Boys,” says Kannan. But more trouble seems to come the technician’s way. The varying internet speed of the user is one such beast. “This will be the biggest challenge,” says Gopal. “In a city like Chennai, we can talk about quality of content.
But what about tier-II cities? Till we arrive at a unified high-speed internet, the small screen will never be able to compete with theatres.” Balaji adds that theatres too wouldn’t be keen to embrace the technological changes. “Many theatres upgraded to RGB laser projections, but now we have Dolby Vision. They can’t afford to keep up.” Three-time National Award-winning cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay, whose recent film, Gulabo Sitabo, was one of the biggest Hindi releases to hit an OTT platform, admits that it was difficult, “but this is the need of the hour.” Ramji agrees but hopes that the format of release can be communicated in advance and he can again maximise the viewing experience.