A good movie has its stars, but many people play a supporting role in bringing that movie to you, whether at the cinema, in your living room, or on your mobile device. We asked Ron Geller, Vice President of Worldwide Content Relations at Dolby Laboratories in Burbank, California, to walk us through the process.

On the set: capture

The first step is capture or recording of the action, said Geller, often with digital cameras and hard drives that store images and sound, respectively, as strings of zeros and ones. We still call movies films, even though shooting a movie on film stock that reacts chemically when exposed to light is increasingly rare.

In the studio: postproduction

Not too long ago, postproduction started with someone putting the film into “a big vat of chemicals,” said Geller, to bring up the visuals and create a print. But nowadays movies are often “born digital,” with postproduction taking place on computer screens, video monitors, and digital audio workstations.

Digital cameras capture a broad range of colors, brightness, and contrast that most display devices can’t recreate. For now, postproduction artists must step down or reduce that richness and detail to suit the displays that you use to view the movies.

Recently, Dolby introduced Dolby Vision, a technology that allows for increased brightness, greater contrast, and a wider gamut of colors. Part of the Dolby® Vision system is a set of tools that will allow postproduction artists to create more dynamic images to send to TV screens.

During the color-grading process, colorists take “raw footage and decide how to manipulate the various colors that appear in each scene, as well as making decisions about brightness and darkness that convey the director’s creative intent,” said Geller. These elements silently influence your view of the scene. The colorist uses specialized tools, such as the Dolby Professional Reference Monitor PRM-4220 (and soon, Dolby Vision enabled displays), to refine the content.

For audio, sound editors and sound mixers add, subtract, and move sounds to convey the director’s intent. Whether the movie plays in stereo, 5.1-channel surround sound (Dolby Digital), or Dolby Atmos™, the sound designer’s aim is to immerse you in the movie as if you’d entered into a dream.

In picture editing, said Geller, editors “reorder the scenes and shoots” to best convey the story, sorting through many hours of film and multiple angles. For example, the editor chooses “a camera angle here that’s focused on the guy, the next shot focused on the girl, and back to the guy again” to weave the story together.

After the color work, the sound mixing, and picture editing, said Geller, “the movie exists and is sitting ‘in the can.’” From there, it goes into the vault. Movies traditionally have been stored in a physical vault, a room with reels of films or of high-resolution videotape arranged on shelves. Now, the vault is just as likely to be virtual, a storehouse of digital files.

On its way to you: supply-chain services, licensing, and distribution

The movie studio, which owns the movie title and content, creates cinema bookings worldwide, orders the making of Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD copies, and licenses use of movie material in other contexts (for example, books or video games). In addition, the movie studio can create licensing deals with broadcasters, online services, and manufacturers of consumer devices.

Supply-chain services convert the film into many physical forms, Geller noted. For example:

  • Release printing: the service provider may create 3,000 copies of a movie (either reels of film or digital hard drives) for 3,000 cinemas.
  • Tape duplication: a studio may duplicate a videotape of the movie for a broadcaster and ship it by plane for uploading and broadcast in a particular market.
  • Encoding for online delivery: “Netflix or Vudu may need a file that’s encoded” to enable playback of premium sound or visuals (such as Dolby Digital Plus™ sound or HD images) on devices that are capable of recreating that experience.
  • Disc compression and authoring (known as C&A): the service provider duplicates the movie to Blu-ray Discs or DVDs for sale at major retail outlets worldwide.

Once the deals are set up and copies made, the film copies are sent to cinema chains and independent exhibitors, DVD and Blu-ray Disc retailers, pay-TV operators, TV channels, aggregators (such as Netflix or Vudu), manufacturers of mobile devices, app developers, and mobile operators.

On your favorite screen

At all stages of the filmmaking process, the aim is to get you, the viewer, into the movie story, no matter where you’re watching—at your favorite cinema, on the couch at a friend’s house, or on your smartphone while waiting for a plane.