We set about the difficult task of authoring a Blu-ray version of our latest film Death Grip, which you can buy on our website. They’ve been selling much faster than the DVDs because Blu-ray rocks, and I’m happy as hell we did it. I often get questions from filmmakers asking how the process went, so this very pragmatic blog post is about what to expect when replicating a small order of Blu-rays. Because it’s nowhere near as easy as replicating DVDs.
If you’re a veteran at making DVDs, move down to the Blu-ray section by clicking here.
Being of the do-it-all mentality, I always like to edit our films and put them onto DVD for direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution. When making a DVD, you go through an “authoring” process where you take your edited product and drop it into an authoring program (DVDit, Encore, DVD Studio, etc.), where you make menus, playlists, Easter eggs, and all that fun stuff. The authoring system then takes your DVD “program” and translates it into a standard format that every DVD player can understand. Despite the occasional glitch popping up, I’m amazed that, given the diversity of DVD players on the market, these authoring systems basically have a 100% success rate at making compatible discs. If you work in software, you understand how improbable this is.
You have two options for distributing your freshly authored DVD.
- Burn or duplicate your own DVDs, print your own labels and sleeves, buy your own boxes, and shrinkwrap them in cellophane (or tin foil, that could be kind of charming too). They’ll be purple underneath, some of the labels will be crooked, you’ll experience compatibility issues with older players, and you’ll spend hundreds of hours. For small batches, this is a good choice.
- Send a DVD or an ISO (a file of the DVD) to a factory where they replicate your order onto a silver disc, print the label onto the top of that disc, and do all the packaging for you and even shrinkwrap the thing, all for roughly $0.99 a piece. If you want to make more than 100 DVDs, this is the way to go, though most replicating facilities won’t print fewer than 1000 units.
If you sell your DVDs for $10/pop, that’s a hefty profit. For anyone hoping to sell their film to more than 100 people, I recommend option 2. It’s easy, and there are companies everywhere that will do it for you.
What about piracy protection? No problem. Replication plants offer CSS (Content Scramble System) for a small fee, which is usually bundled with the overall cost. All CSS keys are encrypted exactly the same, so the replication plant has no hurdles to jump through. This has its disadvantages, obviously, since CSS is easy to crack and was cracked within 2 years of its creation. Turns out the US Gov. wouldn’t let its authors encrypt with more than 40 bits. If you have an odd fascination with stuff like this the way I do, you can read more here. It’s a sad, but hardly surprising, example of government being far behind the curve of innovation.
When making Death Grip, I assumed making a Blu-ray disc (BD) would be the same process. Run the authoring software, burn a disc, deliver to a replication facility and get a thousand made.
The authoring part was the same as making a DVD. More options are available, since Blu-Ray machines have a standard operating system that can do more complex processes than DVD players. Moving menus, picture-in-picture, etc. I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole since our timeline basically gave me 24 hours to author the entire disc, so I just authored the same menu structure as our DVD, burned a BD out, and it worked on the first try. Great. Now just deliver it to the replication plant and we’re done.
Not so fast… there are two new acronyms to worry about. One is called BDCMF (the file format), the other is called AACS (the encryption standard).
Here’s what you don’t know about replicating your BD: you can’t send the BD to a replication facility and have them replicate 1000 of them. They require it in a format called BDCMF, which is basically the Blu-ray disc in a folder, except formatted uniquely. You put that folder on a hard drive and send it to them. Odds are, your authoring software doesn’t export your BD to BDCMF. Encore CS5.5 and CS6 and DVD Studio will not do it. These and most authoring programs simply don’t have the licensing rights to export this proprietary file structure made by Sony, which is required by the licensed replicators that can only read this proprietary file structure. In fact, I’ve found only three programs can do it:
- Rivergate makes one called BluStreak Tracer. It’s $600. The programmer emailed me after buying it to ask if I had any questions about how to use it. Good customer service. It’s also fast, and you just import your ISO, click “make BDCMF” and let it go. It worked for me on the first try.
- Sony has a program called DoStudio Indie. Cute huh? It’s $3,000. That’s the entire budget of Immortal.
- There’s a third option that’s $1000, but I won’t even bother with a link. Just get Rivergate.
The other hurdle is AACS, Advanced Access Content System. Unlike CSS, every BD disc has a unique encryption key supplied by the AACS Licensing Distributor. You pay a fee for it, and you can’t replicate a Blu-ray without an AACS key. (DVDs may be similar with regards to CSS, but the hurdle is far smaller.) This is a bureaucratic step, so you’ll need to budget another couple days so this can be done. Your BD replicating facility deals with it all and wraps it into the cost of the replication. Sony, BD players, and studios came up with this hurdle because of piracy concerns. Blame whoever you want, the fact is this is the reason AACS Keys are now a necessary step toward getting your BDs made.
There’s one more issue to consider: the number of Blu-ray replication facilities is extremely small. We had a hard time finding one, and they could only do single-layer BDs (maxing out at around 2 hours of content). Perhaps in higher quantities they would’ve done dual-layer, but not for us. They even required the sleeve printing be done at an external facility. Due to all the costs of going HD and making a BD, major studios and distributors are the only ones utilizing these replication facilities, and the standard Blu-ray replication job is on the order of 50,000 units. Ours was 1,000 units, so you can imagine the excitement of the sales rep when she had to walk me through every step I’ve just outlined.
It’s simply not worth replication plants’ effort to do your crummy order of 1,000 Blu-rays, unless you do it perfectly and require no further attention after sending them your hard drive. We went through hours of troubleshooting, multiple overnight FedEx deliveries, and a lot of wasted authoring time because the information simply wasn’t out there.
Even in making 1000 BDs, we’re still considered very small fish, and we don’t know jack because nobody’s really done this stuff yet. Hopefully this helps you.