Jump to content


Photo

Flat vs. scope


  • Please log in to reply
93 replies to this topic

#1 Paul Bruening

Paul Bruening

    (deceased)

  • Sustaining Members
  • 2858 posts
  • Producer
  • Oxford, Mississippi

Posted 06 January 2006 - 01:00 AM

Hello all,

I was just watching a DVD of The Thin Man (1935). That old academy frame sure had conveniences. They stacked people in the frame both sitting and standing. I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly right afterwards. Leone had to go to great lengths to use all of that wide frame. Though I struggle to put myself into 1:2.35, I'm seeing some good qualities in 4:3. Which do you like and why?
  • 0

#2 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 16057 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 06 January 2006 - 01:29 AM

Well, it's a mistake to think that you always have to "use" the whole width of 2.35. One of its greatest strengths is the ability to use large amounts of "negative space" to create a feeling of distance, isolation, loneliness, imbalance, etc. You look at the use of the 2.35 frame here in "Superman":

Posted Image

Posted Image

Not only does the widescreen frame emphasize the flatness and expanse of the landscape, but it also is used to suggest Ma Kent's approaching separation from her son by the way that her close-up is framed, without part of him in the frame.

Of course, no aspect ratio is better than another -- they all can be used artistically, The squarer ones are perhaps better at "balanced" framing, symmetry (ala Kubrick) but the widescreen ones, being more "awkward" perhaps strike me as more "modern", like modern art, creating alienating spaces and making imbalance in framing more powerful.

The other advantage to 2.35 can only be felt in a large theater -- the edges of the frame engage your peripheral vision more, making the image feel more immersive, the old Cinerama effect. IMAX does something similar by just being larger in all directions, but in a conventional theater space, it is easier to build a screen larger in the horizontal direction, hence why Fred Waller when developing Cinerama mainly concentrated on maximizing peripheral vision on the sides.

Here is a painting by Andrew Wyeth that was one of the inspirations for me when shooting "Northfork":

Posted Image

It's like a CinemaScope frame, unusual for paintings.
  • 0

#3 Landon D. Parks

Landon D. Parks
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1123 posts
  • Producer
  • Bloomington, Indiana

Posted 06 January 2006 - 03:02 AM

David's right, "Aspect Ratios" all have there advantage, but right now anyway the only real ratios still used (unless your ultra low budget or ultra artistic type) is 1.78 - 1.85:1 (which is almost the same) and 2.39:1. While there is a difference between Anamorphic (2.39:1) and flat (1.78-1.85:1), I see the major advantage to anamorphic in the shooting process. Because of the way the film is shot, chances are your gonna get a sharper picture in anamorphic, compared to shooting flat.

now the 1.33:1 ratio (4:3) is one of those that I don't like under almost any condition. I avaid those "Full Frame" movie at blockbuster like there the devil. For an example, "The Cave" came out Tuesday, they had 20 Full Frame copies and all of there 20 widescreen copies where out. I was so wanting the see the movie again, but I was not willing to sit trough a "Full Frame" Version of it.

General, most films are NOT shot in 4:3, they use either 1.85 or 2.39 (1.78 in HD), so when you see a full fram version, it is usually either "Pan n Scan" or they just slice off the outside of the frames to make the new ratio. Either way you loose information that the director's, producers, writers and everyone else wanted to be there.

Films are an Art form, there aspect ratios's should be preserved in the one that the director origninally established for the film.

Now I'm not saying that I HATE 4:3 in all cases, its just thats it's to "Old Fashioned" and it does not hold that quality that pulls you into the movie like widescreen formats.

If you asked me what my "Favorite" ratio is, I would say 2.39:1, because of all the advantages it has both in shooting and in presentation. My only bad feeling about Anamorphic is that there is no TV's or Digital projectors designed to show it, so unless you have a very expensive projector with an anamorphic lense your not gonna get to take full advantage of the 2.39:1 frame, because on a standard TV (and even widescreen TV) it will still be letterboxed.

Of course taller ratios are also good in some cases, 1.85:1 is a respectable ratio, and for a more dramatic based movie, or a comedy it works well. But can you imagine a 1.85:1 version of King Kong or Harry Potter? It just would not seem the same.

2.39:1 brings you into the frame more than 1.85:1 does, and tons more than 1.33:1. By human nature, we have better "Wide" vision than "Tall" vision, therefor the wider the ratio, the more our vision systems can take in the film.
  • 0

#4 Trevor Greenfield

Trevor Greenfield
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 162 posts
  • Director
  • North Idaho

Posted 06 January 2006 - 03:09 AM

I think David covered my feelings exactly on the subject, except I think as well as 2.35 can lead to an isolated feeling in some cases, especially the bust shot, in many ways by positioning the subject in dead center of frame you get an enhanced feeling of ambience, not necessarily in a negative conotation. Imagine a candlelight dinner at a restaurant, with a little practical lighting your leading lady's face, meanwhile in the background out of focus we see the dancing candle lights, bustling waiters etc. I harken it to a feeling of inclusion into a much bigger world... here is this candlelight dinner scene happening in the middle of all of these other lives going on, but our focus is on our leading lady. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and I'm getting close but I dont have an accurate picture to just link to ;) In another point, what would films with amazing vistas be without scope or a very similar widescreen ratio?

Full frame could ruin the ambience of the above shot if you were in as tight on your actor as I mentioned. It would cut most of the other dinners, the dancing candle lights, the bustling waiters... we would lose a lot. That said, for purposes of tight framing, vertical composition, or where it is crucial to show a subject full frame, well there is no replacement for 1.33. I just shot a B&w 16mm short full frame to replicate silent 20's films and certainly after studying many Keaton, Lloyd, Chaplin, etc films, I've grown to see the abilities of full frame too.

Personally, I think that 1.33 is much maligned simply because for some peculiar reason we as humans prefer more information in the horizontal sense and so we find ourselves looking to tell and watch stories with more widescreen of an effect, but 1.33 shouldn't go without consideration for unconventional films for standard tv or such.

Hence why we end up with the perfect middle ground in 1.85. More horizontal, but not so limiting in your vertical.
  • 0

#5 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 16057 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 06 January 2006 - 10:57 AM

I wish 1.37 Academy was still a viable option for theatrical releases, but it limits you to art house cinemas & museums that can project Academy -- I would have a hard time explaining to a producer why I would do something like that because they have no idea when the movie is made who will be showing it later.

Limited to widescreen as we are today, I sort of wish the two options were 1.66 and 2.39, because that would create a greater distinction between the two viewing experiences.

Second option is to just get rid of 1.85 and make it 1.78 (which is nearly the same anyway) so we can officially at least have one theatrical ratio that is the same as a television ratio. But like I said, 1.85 and 1.78 are nearly the same anyway. I've been watching the widescreen DVD of "War of the Worlds" on my 16x9 LCD TV set and I don't see any small letterboxing visible even though the box says it's 1.85.

There are a lot of compositional advantages to 1.37, like being able to more comfortably frame someone sitting at a table talking to a waiter standing next to them. On the other hand, as soon as the waiter leaves, trying to frame multiple people sitting at a table often entails also getting either the chandelier or a lot of legs under the table as well in 1.37. I find scope to be great for shooting dinner scenes myself...

1.66 to 1.85 are probably closer to the "golden rectangle" used in art, which is why it makes sense for movies like "Barry Lyndon" needing more balanced and classical framing.
  • 0

#6 Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4708 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Europe

Posted 06 January 2006 - 11:18 AM

I've been watching the widescreen DVD of "War of the Worlds" on my 16x9 LCD TV set and I don't see any small letterboxing visible even though the box says it's 1.85.


Hi,

I guess the Telecine operator just made it fit! & the people writing the text for the DVD just copied it from somewhere!

Cheers,

Stephen
  • 0

#7 D. Goulder

D. Goulder
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1259 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 06 January 2006 - 11:50 AM

It's ironic that most of the newer multiplexes seem to have only 2 to 4 screens that will actually open wider for scope flicks (like they should), while most of the modern screens are now designed to vertically crop for scope, thus using less screen real estate than for those movies shot "flat". (I still prefer the scope aspect ratio, regardless of how it's achieved, but that's merely a personal preference.)

What I DO have a gripe with is that the HD cable channels are too often showing scope movies NOT in their original aspect ratio, but rather blowing them up to cover the 1.78/1 HD screens. I guess they figure the average schmoe will be upset with any kind of letterboxing after throwing $3,000 on a new HDTV. I can't believe the filmmakers stand for this, but the unfortunate reality is that they probably have no say in the matter. That's too bad for those of us who would like to see the entire frame.
  • 0

#8 John Pytlak RIP

John Pytlak RIP

    (deceased)

  • Sustaining Members
  • 3499 posts
  • Industry Rep
  • Rochester, NY 14650-1922

Posted 06 January 2006 - 12:16 PM

I wrote an article for theatres: "Caring About Composition":

http://www.kodak.com...composition.pdf

Don't be afraid to use a variety of aspect ratios to tell a story. If they can be printed within the normal 2.39:1 anamorphic release format, almost all theatres can show it. Pictures that used a mix of aspect ratios include "The Horse Whisperer", "Brother Bear", and "More American Graffiti":

http://www.imdb.com/...19314/technical

http://www.imdb.com/...79576/technical

As David mentioned, most commercial theatres can show only the most common 1.85:1 "flat" and 2.39:1 "scope" formats. Better art theatre venues can show 1.37:1 "Academy", 1.66:1, and even silent films properly.
  • 0

#9 Max Jacoby

Max Jacoby
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2955 posts
  • Other

Posted 06 January 2006 - 12:36 PM

Personally I prefere scope for my own films. I just find that I can make more interesting compositions with it. You can really play with background and foreground elements which adds depth to the image, negative space, plus it's great for 2 shots where you can go really close in on the actors. Also I like the image quality of anamorphic, if it's well shot it just looks so much sharper and more present than any other format.

That being said, there are plenty of films shot in 1.85 and Academy that look amazing. Recently 'Elephant' made great use of the 1.37 frame. In the end it comes down to what you as a filmmaker prefer and what works best with your sensibility.
  • 0

#10 Joseph White

Joseph White
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 143 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles, CA

Posted 07 January 2006 - 05:22 AM

yeah i think gus van sant's recent foray into the 1.33:1 real has been really refreshing, with both "elephant" and "last days" and can provide one with many interesting shots. i think aspect ratios are as muchb of a choice in filmmaking as anything - there are films i;'ve seen shot in scope that really didn't make any real use of the widescreen frame, and there have been countless tv shows shot in 4x3 that i can tell would have benefited from some sort of widescreen presentation.

personally i like 4x3 because its somewhat similar to medium format photography (commonly 6x6) which i started with (and still shoot all the time). i liked starting off working with a square frame then later on finding my way through 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. of course i love shooting anamorphic (i mean come on, who doesn't?) but at the end of the day, all that matters is what's appropriate for the material. if you start off concerned with what type of frame will help tell the story best, no matter what you're on the right track.
  • 0

#11 D. Goulder

D. Goulder
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1259 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 07 January 2006 - 11:20 AM

I wonder if Gus is opting for the 4 x 3 frame for other reasons altogether, mainly that his last couple of movies have gotten almost no theatrical play, and instead have been mostly seen on tv. Maybe that was his expectation. This is not meant as a put down, because these have been (IMHO) excellent movies. I'm amazed that Elephant was never put into wide release, as I consider it to be a 'must see' flick. (This could also have been the reason Stanley Kubrick protected for a 4 x 3 frame, to avoid the claustrophobic effects of pan and scan.) Just a thought.
  • 0

#12 Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 182 posts
  • Other
  • Toronto, Canada via Huntington Beach, California

Posted 07 January 2006 - 12:17 PM

Hello All,

If you watch a lot of anamorphic films from the late '50s and '60s you can see that there was a real
"art" to shooting an anamorphic film. There were some DP's that handled it better than others. Also, when they shot these scope films they were shooting them for movie theaters and movie theaters only. There wasn't any real thought about how they would play on TV.

Today when they shoot these widescreen films, it's always in the back of their mind how it will look on TV and you get a lot of scope films that are really a "compromise" as to how it will play on the big and small screen. Director James Cameron has talked a lot about this and most of his films are shot in Super 35. So, for the movie theaters they show the "matted" widescreen version and on TV they show the full frame version. I read that he actually likes the full frame version of his movies better than the widescreen.

Now with television sets being made in 16x9 it might go back to the true art of the scope film?

I don't see very many modern scope films that take advantage of that aspect ratio. Mainly they have 3 or 4 shots that show off the scope and the rest look like they are really trying to frame like a 4x3. In most modern films an extreme long shot is considered the "outside" of the house. Take a looks at many of Hitchcock's films, especially from the '60s and he gave the viewer a real sense of place. Those big vistas of San Francisco in VERTIGO for example. You really don't see anything like that today. When a character goes to another city you see a short short of a plane in the sky and maybe a tight long shot of the airport. That's it. Take a look at the new release of John Wayne's film THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. Those great long shots of the airplane flying in the sky. Wow! It gave you such a fantastic feeling of space and perspective.

Mike
  • 0

#13 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 16057 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 07 January 2006 - 01:38 PM

Director James Cameron has talked a lot about this and most of his films are shot in Super 35. So, for the movie theaters they show the "matted" widescreen version and on TV they show the full frame version. I read that he actually likes the full frame version of his movies better than the widescreen.


What he actually said was that certain shots in the 4x3 transfer of "The Abyss" actually were more interesting in 4x3, like a shot of someone standing at the top of the abyss itself, since there is more of a vertical feeling to the 4x3 frame.

He's actually said in interviews that when he shoots in Super-35 for 2.35, he does not think about the TV version when framing, to quote him: "Never." He's very adamant about that. He feels that as long as you make some attempt to protect the S35 negative, the information is there later when you sit down to make the pan & scan version so there's no need to compromise the widescreen framing while shooting.

I talked to another DP about that issue, Stephen Burum; I asked him if he ever takes TV into account when framing an anamorphic movie. He basically said something like "I figure the harder it is to make the pan & scan TV version, the better I must have framed for scope." I feel the same way -- you just have to concentrate on making the best version you can; if that's the theatrical version, so be it. Frame for that and deal with the consequences of the TV version later. Truth is that most people who care about movies will try and see the letterboxed DVD later anyway.
  • 0

#14 Leo Anthony Vale

Leo Anthony Vale
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1994 posts
  • Other
  • Pittsburgh PA

Posted 07 January 2006 - 02:10 PM

(This could also have been the reason Stanley Kubrick protected for a 4 x 3 frame, to avoid the claustrophobic effects of pan and scan.) Just a thought.


---In the days when networks broadcast 35mm prints with commercials cut in from a film chain, shooting with the 4x3 frame "safe for TV" was standard practice.

---LV
  • 0

#15 Max Jacoby

Max Jacoby
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2955 posts
  • Other

Posted 07 January 2006 - 02:43 PM

"I figure the harder it is to make the pan & scan TV version, the better I must have framed for scope."

That's the way to go!

I remember catching the pan&scan version of 'Mission Impossible1' on tv one night (lit by the man in question) and there was one scene where Tom Cruise and another character sit opposite each other talking. There was a profile shot and all one could see of the actors was a nose on the left of the screen and one on the right! It was hilarious and it reminde dme why I never watch films that are broadcast.

Now that 16x9 televisions and broadcast become more common, these amputations of over 40% of the scope image to fit it onto TV should be a thing of the past.
  • 0

#16 D. Goulder

D. Goulder
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1259 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 07 January 2006 - 03:38 PM

---In the days when networks broadcast 35mm prints with commercials cut in from a film chain, shooting with the 4x3 frame "safe for TV" was standard practice.

---LV


Kubrick shot full frame all the way up to 1998, decades after the practice you describe.
  • 0

#17 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 16057 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 07 January 2006 - 07:48 PM

Kubrick shot full frame all the way up to 1998, decades after the practice you describe.


What do you mean "after" -- it's STILL the practice if you're shooting standard 1.85 theatrical to protect the 4x3 TV area as much as possible. 4x3 transfers are still being done all the time for widescreen movies.
  • 0

#18 D. Goulder

D. Goulder
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1259 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 07 January 2006 - 10:04 PM

What do you mean "after" -- it's STILL the practice if you're shooting standard 1.85 theatrical to protect the 4x3 TV area as much as possible. 4x3 transfers are still being done all the time for widescreen movies.


I was responding to the implication that aesthetics were not a factor in Kubrick's choice of framing, which I don't believe to be the case. Regarding 4 x 3 framing, it seems that a large percentage of the time (certainly not always) a common topline is chosen, thus leading many to extract this aspect ratio from the 1.85/1 theatrical frame, resulting in the pan and scan approach.
  • 0

#19 elvworks

elvworks
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 99 posts
  • Director

Posted 07 January 2006 - 11:36 PM

In adding to the original question, Flat vs. Scope, I really believe composition, whether 2.35 or 1.85, is an artform. (4:3 is not even considered and 16x9 I consider TV widescreen, not real widescreen). I really liked "Tombstone", I thought they made excellent use of the widescreen platform, the way their actors stood, the gun fight scenes, and especially the abundant scenery available. Even if you watch the DVD, you still feel "You're at the movies," because its composition is as such.

Also, movies in the 1.85 ratio that are beautifully shot could really make you a believer of that ratio. I think a good example of that is, Meet Joe Black, as far as picture goes, it was photographically rich. Also, since most of the shooting was in the mansion, in the office and a few scenes outside, it really fit it perfectly.

It's really rough when you're sitting in the theatre and the 2.35 ratio is being used but their story doesn't warrant it. You don't feel you're at the movies, you could watch whatever it is at home.

Sometimes it is so frustrating, I think people should have a license to be able to shoot in 2.35, yes, I know that's off the deep end but it really bugs me and I feel some movies don't deserve it. 2.35 is special.

As far as tv versions of the movie, pans and scan, or even using the whole negative, all I can say is thank God DVD offers original format versions because that is the only thing that will look right.

All the best,
Rick
  • 0

#20 kev5000

kev5000
  • Guests

Posted 08 January 2006 - 12:03 AM

I come the back end of filmmaking: distribution. And to be honest with you, very few films are shot on scope (2:35). They are all shot in 1:85.

Why? Because the majority of the theater screens are flat and its just an added pain to shoot in scope when the audience could really careless if it was flat or scope. All they want is their $10 worth of entertainment.

I love scope, but from what I hear it is a pain to shoot in. If you don't know what your doing, you get focus problems. Basically, its anther way for the studio to save money. Actually, exhibtors are almost shocked when they find out they are renting a scope film.
  • 0


Ritter Battery

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Paralinx LLC

Glidecam

Abel Cine

Cadrage Directors Viewfinder

CineTape

NIBL

Visual Products

rebotnix Technologies

The Slider

Rig Wheels Passport

K5600 Lighting

Aerial Filmworks

Zylight

CineLab

Robert Starling

Cinelicious

Pro 8mm

Paralinx LLC

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Ritter Battery

CineTape

rebotnix Technologies

Glidecam

The Slider

Aerial Filmworks

Pro 8mm

K5600 Lighting

Robert Starling

Cinelicious

Rig Wheels Passport

CineLab

Cadrage Directors Viewfinder

Zylight

NIBL

Abel Cine

Visual Products