And...#5: get a follow focus with marking disc. Carefully achieve focus at several points near to far, marking the disc as you go (use sidewalk cracks, tape marks on ground, fallen branches, edge of rugs, etc.). Then, enlist just about anyone to literally lend a hand. I've had 100% fantastic success with this method. No $$$ or training required.
I had the pleasure of seeing my short screened from a DCP at two festivals, the Newport Beach Film Festival and DC Shorts. Both were fantastic experiences and validated all the hard work and time I put into the film. I colored my short myself in SpeedGrade on an Apple Cinema Display, and initially I tried to make my own DCP using popular freeware. It's tricky business for technologically minded people, and I'm pretty sure I made a working DCP, but the really tricky part is distribution, which involves a Ext3 formatted linux drive - hard to create properly on a Mac.
I rented a theater and gathered cast and crew on a weekend and was humiliated when my self-made DCP failed. I ended up using SimpleDCP – they even handled distribution to both festivals – and everything worked perfectly.
I agree with Holden Payne - the film did look a bit different than it did on my Apple Cinema Display, but seeing it on a huge screen indeed did make up for that. My film is very dark, and therefore I'm always anxious about how it's going to look at festivals. The DCP experiences delivered both times (and at a test screening I did at a local AMC theater for $100).
My sound was mixed in 5.1 by a professional movie mixer, and I believe he capped the volume to -3 or something that is likely a professional standard. However, my film was quieter than several others I screened with, and I suspect that's because those films were mixed on laptops and normalized to "0". Not sure what the solution is to this issue.
Finally, I was thrilled to be invited to screen at a HollyShorts monthly screening at the Chinese Theater. I thought for sure the screening would be on DCP but the festival requested a digital quicktime file. (In fairness to HollyShorts, their annual festival in the same venue does allow DCPs. For the monthly screenings they're simply cheap and resort to running films themselves off a laptop hooked up to the projector.)
As I was inviting cast and crew (and even friends I hadn't seen in years), I offered to pay for the projectionist myself - over $300 - so I could use my reliable DCP. HollyShorts refused, saying switching between mediums would invite problems. I assured all would look well.
Well, it didn't look well. All of the "dark" films suffered from hideous blue distortion in the shadows - even on faces. And, one of the films "froze" and had to be rerun - just as Holden warns. I was devastated, especially as all of my friends and colleagues paid $15 to attend. I wrote HollyShorts and told them how I felt, but they never had the decency to apologize.
My short screened at another dozen festivals from digital files, and for the ones I attended (3 of them), on the whole the experience didn't live up to the DCP experiences.
I guess I'm saying DCPs rock. Just spend a $100 at a local theater and screen your DCP and then you'll have a good idea what to expect.