Interview: Dolph Chiarino of Midnight Legacy – Part 3

After diving into the Alien 2: On Earth disc itself, Dolph spoke out on some all-compassing topics concerning Blu-ray, including codecs and film grain.

Why AVC? What would VC-1 not have done for you at the same level of compression?

I’ve never liked VC-1. I don’t think it represents grain properly. I think it always looks either clumpy or it looks digital. Our post house wanted to show us some VC-1 clips of Alien 2 and I humored them for say for a minute and was like no, no, no.

I mean, the entire industry is moving away from VC-1. The majority of discs are AVC.

So, even in a film with a fine grain stock, even a film like Alien 2 which has almost no grain, you don’t think VC-1 would be up to it?

I guess so. Just for us, it starts to boil down to personal preference and seeing the two side-by-side. I’m going to see myself leaning towards AVC with anything that has any type of grain. I think VC-1 is great for like extras features in HD; it’s efficient, and there are plenty of discs that use VC-1 that look terrific. Overall though, I would just prefer AVC.

Same thing with the audio codecs. You went with a DTS-HD mix and not TrueHD or a PCM track. Why, and what are the differences?

I think PCM is great, but it’s a space hog. I think all three codecs are exactly the same. It becomes a matter of space and efficiency. PCM is fine for what it is, and I don’t have a problem with anyone using it. It’s perfect if you have the extra space. For TrueHD versus DTS-HD MA, TrueHD is just a less efficient codec. It’s really carrying two streams instead of one with MA where you have the core built-in to that one stream so that people who can’t decode MA can still get the DTS core.

That’s why if you looked at something like that first director’s cut of Watchmen, Warner was always a staunch TrueHD label and they had to switch to MA for that because you literally could not use TrueHD for that picture-in-picture track.

You don’t have to give numbers, but is there is a drastic difference in licensing fees between DTS and TrueHD?

There is absolutely none.

I always thought that because smaller studios tended to veer one way or the other.

We’re a small studio so that stuff doesn’t apply to us. I’m sure if you’re Universal or Warner you’re approaching Dolby or DTS and saying, “We’re going to use your codec on all our releases. What’s the incentive, what’s the cost?” But for us, it’s completely transparent.

What would you change about the Blu-ray spec?

I’d have a much larger disc size.

Do you think that’s becoming an issue or it always has been an issue?

I think you’re starting to run into problems with longer films. You have to split them. I mean, I don’t mind. I was watching Laserdiscs back in the day and it didn’t bother me, but it seems to bother a lot of people. I don’t think you can go beyond three hours on a BD-50 and maintain the highest quality. There are exceptions to the rule. I mean that new Avatar re-release looks great. I just wonder how much time they spent encoding that. Probably months.

But it’s also all digital too, so it doesn’t have the grain to deal with.

Oh sure, I think it’s the grain, but on the other hand I think that you’re dealing with something where there’s also a lot going on. There’s always something, in the background, there’s a lot of fast movement, and that’s where the encoders find the hiccups.

Overall, I think that if they split Seven Samurai onto two BD-50s, it would have been a better disc.

Do you feel the public is educated enough about film grain? Do the studios do enough to explain why this is here, it’s not a flaw?

I liken it to when they had to explain to everybody that widescreen was really widescreen, and it was more picture, not less picture. Other than that, I don’t know how to answer that, because I don’t think they’re doing enough. I think people who want Back to the Future are going to buy Back to the Future so it’s kind of confusing to me why you would cater to, and this is the easiest way to put it, the lowest common denominator in terms of the person who just wants to have it on Blu-ray instead of the videophile who would say this should be perfect.

You have to see it like the studios though, that this is the last time they really have a chance to sell this. I do think the studios need to take a stand, but who knows if they’re going to. Luckily, all of these studios are in relationships with directors who feel very strongly about how their films should be presented, so hopefully those are the types of things to motivate the studios to continue to present the films as they are.

I don’t remember which movie it was, but it had Martin Scorcese talking about widescreen, discussing why he used it and this is how it’s supposed to look. To this day, I haven’t seen any about film grain. To me, people see these discs that look really poor, and it seems to degrade the format. People don’t understand that, and that Blu-ray is really grainy, and as such Blu-ray doesn’t look that good.

It’s going to be people being very pro-active and very vocal about it. Nobody really wants to step up and do it. It’s a shame. I’m sure we’re going to complaints in the future about having a lot of grain, even the stuff we’ve already started working on there is a lot of grain. That’s the way it is.

Honestly, the biggest problem in this industry right now whether it’s a major label or independent is that there is no one with a personality. There’s no one to address these issues, everyone is doing status-quo and just saying, “Thanks for your support!” It’s silly, and I don’t think it serves any purpose other than, I don’t know, self-serving egotistical nonsense of just wanting to make the money. That’s the bottom line with all of this stuff, most companies just want the money.

Universal knew they were gonna put out Back to the Future and the videophiles were going to buy it anyway and all of the other people who didn’t want the grain would too. It’s a real shame. I have a feeling that in the next few months that kind of stuff is going to start to change.

Why is that?

I think that a lot of reception to our label and what’s funny is that we haven’t even put a product out (ed note: Obviously, by the time you’re reading this, the disc will be available). We’re getting e-mails, we’re seeing forum posts like, “We wish you would have done Lord of the Rings; You should have done Back to the Future.” It’s all hilarious.

With our mission statement, it’s not a sales sheet, it’s the truth. It’s created a very different outlook on what we’re doing because it’s not a cash grab. I think that’s going to be the difference between what other people are doing and what we’re doing.

I want the product to speak for itself.

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Thanks to Dolph for taking the time to discuss all of this. Midnight Legacy has, despite doubters (myself included), produced a product that has lived up to the expectations with Alien 2. Dolph’s confidence that they can keep up the same quality with some rather lavish, extreme ideas for the future that haven’t been announced yet still have a ways to go, but it’s an indie worth at least keeping an eye on.

If you missed them, here is Part 1 of the interview, and Part 2.