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No more letterbox on Smallville


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#1 glen winter

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 12:44 AM

Just wanted to share a depressing memo I received lately, regarding how we shoot Smallville...
With digital transmission there is only going to be one signal broadcast, HD 16 x 9 . While this is a great step to the future, the studio is now not doing a SD downconvert with a letter box to preserve the widescreen image we have composed for since season 3. This step is being left to the cable provider. Since the studio believes that this will be not done by them in the foreseeable future, we are being asked to go back to protecting for 4 x 3 centre cut. Most viewers watching Smallville on SD will go back to only viewing it in this aspect ratio, after 5 years of letterbox. This was such a great breakthrough for us at the time. We were liberated from the tyranny of compromise, and began working the frame with stretched compositions that we considered cinematic! Now this is a great step backward, and it really hurts.
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 12:53 AM

I'm sorry to hear that, Glen. I've enjoyed your work and the compositions letterboxing allowed.

I'm sick of TV always being so damn safe. Nobody is ever allowed to take bold chances.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 01:07 AM

I love the look of the show Glen. I watch it in HD (HDNET late night marathons!). This truly is a bummer. At least with pan & scan, you had the option of weighting the frame to the left or right, even if you couldn't use the whole 1.77 frame all at once. I guess you won't be able to do that with 4x3 center cut.
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#4 Michael Collier

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 01:09 AM

That really is too bad. I have been a fan of SV since I first watched season one through three on DVD in less than two weeks. It has been in no small part to the great quality of images the show has always had. But I suppose that is the downside of TV, there's always a compromise to be made. I was always impressed how few compromises you have had to make.

Composition aside, the acting is great, the stories are great, and the lighting and camera work is consistently top notch (Kudos Glen, I learned your name from credits before I knew you posted here just because that show has always struck me as one of the best shot programs on TV) Its a shame to have to step back from that freedom, but the strengths of the show will pull it through. Hopefully soon enough 16x9 will be predominant enough that networks won't ask cinematographers to make that compromise. But until then, I am sure you will find a creative way to keep the 16x9 image striking while protecting 4:3

It is odd though, on my cable box in small market Anchorage Alaska, there is a button to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 with letter box (I assume it adds letter box or does the center cut in the box from a single 16x9 signal) I figured that was standard on all cable boxes, but maybe because I have the HD package I have an upgraded box. Also I read somewhere Alaska has one the highest per capita ownership of HD sets in the US. Maybe its a market thing. But if that's common all over the US and abroad I would think networks would leave the choice up to the viewer, at least with dramas.

Head up though, your doing excellent work and I don't think that small compromise alone will be the demise of Smallville's quality cinematography.
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#5 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 05:07 AM

I'm sick of TV always being so damn safe. Nobody is ever allowed to take bold chances.

Well, I think I'd disagree with you on that point. Breaking Bad would be a good example....
But I don't think the letterboxing is about taking chances, I think it's about money. Most decisions like this usually are, but I'm just guessing in this case.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:23 AM

Let me say with irony: "You need to get with it man. I mean, this is the 21st Century after all." :blink:

I have to say that, working to protect two aspect ratios is probably the most painful thing I work with, personally.

I mean, how the hell can you do tight shots and tasteful compositions, when you're trying to simultaneously trying to protect for two very different aspect ratios?

But hey, Glen, it could be worse. It could be that you'd be shooting for a station, like A&E ahem ahem, that uses the 4x3 "FULL" feature that not only uses 4x3 instead of 16x9, but STRETCHES 4x3 to make it into 16x9 to boot.

I once watched a presentation of "The Shining" that I at first thought was in HD. Turns out that it was still the old 4x3 that protected by shooting 4-perf. for the whole academy frame (except the B-unit helicopter shots, where you could see rotors at the top :rolleyes: ). So it was protected, mostly, for four-perf., up-res-ed, and stretched all at the same time.
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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:27 AM

We were liberated from the tyranny of compromise, and began working the frame with stretched compositions that we considered cinematic! Now this is a great step backward, and it really hurts.


Obviously, you'd potentially get fired for this, but if it were me, I would disregard said memo and shoot without protecting for 4x3 anyway.

I mean, why become a DOP if you don't even have creative control over framing. Or maybe shoot academy and tell them "OK. Well pillar-box the HD transmission."
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#8 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 07:47 AM

While its nowhere near as interesting or creatively heart wrenching as having to protect for drama this is something which happens in advertising all the time and with some interesting solutions to get the best results for broadcast. It seems so backwards that such a long running series decides to do things so differently after so many seasons and a show which has been lauded for its look at that. I wonder if the audience will notice? First digital now this, next thing you know they'll want to bring Superboy's dog Krypto back to the series...
On another note, while its something I don't watch, I have friends who are nuts for Smallville and get the series boxsets and everything they can lay their hands on. Congratulations on such a successful show.
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#9 John Sprung

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:15 AM

What's happening is that the networks -- CW is not alone in this -- are going to single tape delivery and a single nationwide HD feed. The affiliates, satellite, and cable head ends no longer get an NTSC version, they have to make their own. Theoretically, if the 6-12 date holds, off air viewers will also be getting their 4:3 made for them in those $40 set top boxes. Instead of one downconversion that could be letterboxed or center cut with a few pan and scan tweaks, now there will be many thousands -- millions if you count the set top boxes -- of downconversions done. Most, I'd expect, will be strict center cut. The set top boxes may let the viewer choose between center cut and letterbox.




-- J.S.
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#10 Thomas James

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:22 AM

I think rectangular aspect ratios are obsolete.
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#11 John Sprung

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:43 AM

I think rectangular aspect ratios are obsolete.


So.... Circles? Parallelograms? Trapezoids? Hexagons? ;-)





-- J.S.
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#12 Chris Burke

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:50 AM

I think rectangular aspect ratios are obsolete.



If obsolete, what is replacing them? I think you have it wrong, because both 4:3 and 16:9 are rectangles, just one more than the other. I think that rectangles are more interesting to compose in than squares. A friend of mine is shooting U2 tonight in a special not so secret show here in Boston, they'll be using nothing but rectangles.
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#13 Thomas James

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 11:53 AM

The IMAX Tilted Dome format uses a triangular aspect ratio that measures 180 degrees horizontal by 120 degrees vertical.
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 02:31 PM

...180 degrees horizontal by 120 degrees vertical.


That seems to be a rectangle. How is it not one?
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#15 Tony Brown

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 03:41 PM

That seems to be a rectangle. How is it not one?


Is the US the last bastion of 4:3? Irony eh.....
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#16 K Borowski

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:02 PM

That seems to be a rectangle. How is it not one?


No it's not one rectangle, it's two triangles placed hypotenuse to hypotenuse :blink:

Thomas, I honestly don't understand why you even posted on this thread. Talk about derailing the train of thought.

Are you just going around the forum stirring up film-digital debates for fun?

Frankly, most people don't care about what is "obsolete". Something is only obsolete if you stop using it. You IT guys aren't going to call the shots in the film industry with a bunch of hype and technobabble.
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#17 Michael Most

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Posted 11 March 2009 - 04:24 PM

What's happening is that the networks -- CW is not alone in this -- are going to single tape delivery and a single nationwide HD feed. The affiliates, satellite, and cable head ends no longer get an NTSC version, they have to make their own. Theoretically, if the 6-12 date holds, off air viewers will also be getting their 4:3 made for them in those $40 set top boxes. Instead of one downconversion that could be letterboxed or center cut with a few pan and scan tweaks, now there will be many thousands -- millions if you count the set top boxes -- of downconversions done. Most, I'd expect, will be strict center cut. The set top boxes may let the viewer choose between center cut and letterbox.


If all networks, cable operators, and the converter implementors would adopt the AFD (Active Format Description, an optional part of the ATSC broadcast standard which defines how an image should be displayed), as NBC already has, this would not be an issue. Perhaps that can still happen before June.

Perhaps not.
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#18 Tony Brown

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 01:37 AM

I rarely work in the US these days so am out of touch. What percentage of US viewers are still on 4:3 sets? I haven't seen a 4:3 set anywhere in the world for about 5 years ....
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#19 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 04:01 AM

I rarely work in the US these days so am out of touch. What percentage of US viewers are still on 4:3 sets?

Plenty. I'd say more folks still have 4:3 than have 16:9, but that's just a guess based on people I know. I personally have one of each.
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#20 David Rakoczy

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 07:04 AM

Mr. Brown... you had me trying to kill that bug.. then trying to figure out how it got in my Cinema Display!!!!!!


:lol: Thanks !!!!!


So... when can we frame for 16x9 and broadcast in 16x9 ?..... 6/12/09?
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