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why are films as long as they are?


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#1 sam williams

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 08:23 PM

im curious as to who decided films should be as long as they are ....as in how come every film is generally between 1 1/2 to 2 hours and how did this come to be.

I would imagine that it after a long process of trial and error through the last century, people eventually found that this length of time just felt right, but i need to know for sure.

thanks,

sam
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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 10:33 PM

im curious as to who decided films should be as long as they are ....as in how come every film is generally between 1 1/2 to 2 hours and how did this come to be.

I would imagine that it after a long process of trial and error through the last century, people eventually found that this length of time just felt right, but i need to know for sure.

thanks,

sam


Maybe that's the longest most people can wait until they have to go to the bathroom. :P
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 10:36 PM

I think it has more to do with people's "butts" falling asleep from being in one position for so long.
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#4 Michael Collier

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Posted 11 April 2009 - 11:55 PM

It also has to do with how many times a show can play on one screen in a day. I have heard its much tougher to distribute a 3 hour film than it is a 2 1/2 hour film for that reason. Not to mention if your striking 3000 prints, that extra 30 minutes means almost 9 million more feet in print costs.
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 12:34 AM

Maybe that's the longest most people can wait until they have to go to the bathroom. :P


With a large Coke (24 U.S. fl. oz/23Imp. fl. oz./710mL) that's actually quite a difficult feat for a guy to do!
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#6 Andrew Koch

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 03:57 AM

Hitchcock said the same thing about the bathroom, he phrased it as "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."
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#7 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 04:42 AM

Hitchcock said the same thing about the bathroom, he phrased it as "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."


There used to be 2 films on the bill - the main feature and the B movie, so one and a half hours would just about give you a whole evening's entertainment with 2 films. Allowing time for the ice cream sales during the bladder relief period, the longer films like "Lawrence of Arabia" used to have an intermission to allow for these functions.

There other limitation is that Theatre owners like to squeeze in the screenings.
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#8 Paul Bruening

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 05:34 AM

The aforementioned reasons are, clearly, factors deciding length. There is another: Emotional procedure. It takes about an hour and a half (give or take) to unravel a three act play inside the average human being's mind. It is easy for us movie makers to think of a movie as a product, as a "thing" because we work with the machinery and people in movie making. But, for the consumer, a movie is a service... an emotional service; an intellectual service; an experiential service.
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#9 Kirsty Stark

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 09:44 AM

Maybe that's the longest most people can wait until they have to go to the bathroom. :P


Apparently most kids' films are <89 minutes long for that very reason!
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#10 David Rakoczy

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 11:15 AM

I know Sand Pebbles has an intermission.. I don't recall if Apocalypse Now has one (?)...
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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 02:57 PM

I know Sand Pebbles has an intermission.. I don't recall if Apocalypse Now has one (?)...


I don't remember it having one. The intermission seemed to go out of fashion... none of the Lord of the Ring film had one and they were 3 hours long.
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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 02:58 PM

I know Sand Pebbles has an intermission.. I don't recall if Apocalypse Now has one (?)...


I don't remember it having one. The intermission seemed to go out of fashion... none of the Lord of the Rings films had one and they were 3 hours long.
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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 06:39 PM

90 minutes to 2 hours is standard in the U.S., but not necessarily standard elsewhere in the world. I hear in India the average film is 3 hours or more. So there are social and cultural differences to take into account as well. It's fascinating to read about the early days of film and how different business models came and went. I recommend reading "Film History: an Introduction" by Bordwell and Thompson.
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#14 Jean Dodge

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Posted 12 April 2009 - 10:07 PM

It's a great question to ask - pop songs are aprox 3 and half minutes because 78rpm records lasted that long. Before the 1920s, dance bands played any given song for much longer as a habit - and so there were less songs heard in a given night, and fewer spaces on a single girl's "dance card." Ten inch disks were a fairly random convention partially based on the size of the "furniture" (ie, a phonograph cabinet) the manufacturers and salesmen were adding to people's parlors but the form stuck and clever songwriters and performers began crafting tighter lyric cycles to cram a narrative into less verses. Ballads and blues, novelty songs and story songs got better as a result of leaving out the weakest, most repetitious or derivative verses from traditional songs. Broadway took note. Original songs had to compete and stand out, and make a quick impact. Seven inch 45 rpms continued the trend post ww2. It wasn't until LP records, the later period Beatles & Dylan that anyone dared challenge the form and put out a six minute single.

But let's talk movies: 90-120 minutes is also said to be close to the length of a cycle of REM sleep in a sleeping human. That's when we dream. REM sleep is about 20-25% of the average sleep cycle. So if we sleep for eight hours, and a quarter of that is in the REM sleep mode, that's exactly 120 minutes. I think it was the director Alex Cox who first pointed that out to me. Actually, no I heard it second hand from Chloe Webb, who played Nancy in SID AND NANCY. She heard it from him.

In the great autobiography by Karl Brown, who worked for years as Billy Bitzer's assistant during the years that "two reelers" gave over to "six reelers," ie, shorts to features he has a great passage somewhere which I'll have to paraphrase, as I am traveling and my beloved copy is not handy. He describes leaving D.W. Griffith's studio late after a long day's work only to note that the master was still hard at work editing - which he did in the projection booth, running the results on a full sized screen - and Browne says he caught a glimpse of Griffith "trying to drive his dreams into a corner where he could capture them." (paraphrased from memory)
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#15 Dominic Case

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 08:44 PM

why are films as long as they are?

Mostly because the editor doesn't stand up to the director.

So many films run on for at least 20 minutes after they should have finished. I reckon 90 to 100 minutes should be enough to say what you have to say - 120 minutes max.

It is a mystery to me why films are made so long, especially when the chances of a film actually making a profit are so slim. A 2 1/2 hour film costs 67% more per print than a 1 1/2 hour film, and the theatre can program fewer screenings per day. Digital cinema will cut out the first problem, but not the second. I never heard of a cinema charging more for a longer feature than a shorter one - but fewer sessions must hit their revenue.
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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 08:58 PM

Movie theaters make most of their money off of concessions. This being the case, perhaps they'd rather have a 6 hour long film with an intermission.. enough time to get the same folks to buy 2x the food and drink!
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#17 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 02:29 AM

Isn't there a minimum length? Something like 72 minutes or 87 minutes. It's so we don't confuse it with a TV show. ;)
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#18 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 04:03 AM

Isn't there a minimum length? Something like 72 minutes or 87 minutes. It's so we don't confuse it with a TV show. ;)


I believe a feature film is usually defined as being longer than 60 mins. Although the Academy seems to use 40 minutes

http://www.oscars.or...8/08.12.29.html

On the other hand for animation they seem have a min. running time of 70 minutes for a feature film.
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#19 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 07:19 PM

I don't remember it having one. The intermission seemed to go out of fashion... none of the Lord of the Rings films had one and they were 3 hours long.


I saw a couple of movies when I was in Athens, Greece where they just stopped the movie at a random spot in the middle so everyone could go into the lobby and smoke.
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#20 John Sprung

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Posted 14 April 2009 - 07:36 PM

It's a great question to ask - pop songs are aprox 3 and half minutes because 78rpm records lasted that long. ....


Ah, you youngsters with your flat disk records.... Before that, the Edison cylinder phonographs had two different groove pitches, and a shift lever to choose between them. The original coarse pitch was 2 minutes, the newer version 4 minutes.

As for the length of feature films, a friend of mine used to work the preview circuit back in the TriStar days. He found one theater in Texas where the owner had rigged his projector to run more like 26 fps, so as to get through overly long movies a little quicker, and make more time to sell popcorn. Did it with VW generator pulleys, the split kind with the shims in between.




-- J.S.
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