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Mixed Aspect Ratios in Narrative Film


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#1 Joe Taylor

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 12:39 PM

Next year I will be shooting a short narrative, 35-40 min. that is a period drama/western set in 1850's Arizona. I am planning to film the bulk of this film in the 2.33 aspect ratio and have been long considering just sequence, where a critically wounded character experiences flashbacks, dreams, hallucinations, in the 1.78 aspect ratio. I recall several films that have had mixed aspect ratios, most all shot and projected on film, but in this day of digital delivery, I am hoping to get others takes on the pro and cons of projecting in two different ratios. This film will mostly play the festival circuit, and folks who have experience in this arena I am hoping will chime in.

Again, the bulk, 95%, will be 2.33 with one sequence, 3-4 min, at 1.78. Am I asking for trouble?
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#2 John Holland

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 12:42 PM

Err a 2.33 ratio ? 2.40 would be better .
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#3 Freya Black

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 12:52 PM

Next year I will be shooting a short narrative, 35-40 min. that is a period drama/western set in 1850's Arizona. I am planning to film the bulk of this film in the 2.33 aspect ratio and have been long considering just sequence, where a critically wounded character experiences flashbacks, dreams, hallucinations, in the 1.78 aspect ratio. I recall several films that have had mixed aspect ratios, most all shot and projected on film, but in this day of digital delivery, I am hoping to get others takes on the pro and cons of projecting in two different ratios. This film will mostly play the festival circuit, and folks who have experience in this arena I am hoping will chime in.

Again, the bulk, 95%, will be 2.33 with one sequence, 3-4 min, at 1.78. Am I asking for trouble?


Not quite sure I understand what you are getting at?

Why would it make a difference if it was shot in film or digital?
Why would it make any difference if your video is projected at a festival or a multiplex?
What kind of trouble are you anticipating?

I can't imagine anyone will care if your movie changes aspect ratio for a short sequence. It's been done countless times before and the people involved will just slap your video on and that will be that really.

You'll have to elaborate further.

love

Freya
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#4 Joe Taylor

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 01:46 PM

Thanks Freya,

There are many reasons to be concerned. Mixed ratios when projected digitally are not nearly as tricky to get around as when done so with film. The aspect ratios for most film projectors are often determined using a hard mask. And almost all wide screen film projection (2.33 and wider) are anamorphic and use anamorphic lenses to dee-squeeze the image. If you have a 1.78 segment within your anamorphic presentation then you are going to have serious problems-- forget film projection. Digital projection use normally do not have those issues, but many theaters, mulitplex or otherwise, often set up their screens which is determined by the aspect ratio of the presentation. Ever noticed that in many multi-plexes the screen curtains are often moved around during the trailers and finally set for the big presentation? Happens all the time. I can imagine many issues that can arise. Ask you typical projectionist or even theatre manager about two or more aspect ratios for a given film and I envision a blank and confused look. DVD-BluRay presentation might also present some problems. Making the disk myself should not present any problems but if I ask a professional, he is likely to give me a hundred reasons why I shouldn't do this -- beginning with encoding and on and on.

In short, this should be a no-brainer. Easy as you please. But I have experienced human nature and in the film world people are impossible.
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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 02:46 PM

You still havn't explained what you think is going to go wrong.

There aren't really any serious problems with doing this with film projection. It happens frequently in major films. Basically the film negative is just masked down to the new aspect ratio. So if you had a film that was 1.85 but had a section that was wider than 1.85 then the 1.85 film would just be masked on the print itself for the wider section. Typical examples might be all those split screen telephone call shots.

This is why you will get a blank and confused look from the projectionist (and certainly the theatre manager who will probably be more concerned with the sales figures for the popcorn!)

As to the curtains, they normally don't move during the film itself. Perhaps you want this to happen? In which case that's obviously something you have to ask the projectionist to do. The curtains obviously won't detect a change of aspect ratio in the film and move on their own! ;)

You mentioned film festivals, you might be in for a bit of a shock. Film festivals won't neccesarily be projecting your film in a cinema with curtains etc. In fact my local multiplex does not have curtains on all its screens even. Film festivals might not even be showing your work in a conventional cinema space at all tho!

It's exactly the same for film or video. However with video for a festival, you basically just need to worry about making your work to fit in the 16:9 aspect ratio for video projection, so you just need to have the correct masks for each section of your movie.

So it's all fairly straightforward really you will be glad to hear! :)

love

Freya

P.S. Scope projection on film is generally about 2.39/2.40 BTW, as John suggests.

Edited by Freya Black, 16 November 2011 - 02:48 PM.

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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 16 November 2011 - 02:59 PM

BTW some classic films that were shot for academy are now available on pillarboxed prints for all the theatres out there that no longer have the ability to project in academy aspect ratio. Not important to what you are asking I don't think, but it might help you to see the situation a bit clearer.

love

Freya
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#7 Stephen Floyd

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 12:08 AM

From an editor's perspective, I think a change in aspect ratio for the purposes you are proposing would work well. I would make sure this change in ratio is matched with a change in style (such as going from stationary shots to freehand, of from traditionally-composed images to something riddled with dutch angles and extreme close-ups) so as not to break the fourth wall.

But I agree that using a digital rendering of the movie would be the best way to alter the ratio without changing your projector. I think questions regarding your use of film could be better-answered if you could share what format you were using and what editing facilities you would have access to.
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#8 Mark Evans

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 05:32 AM

I think that your letting technicalities get in the way of what you want to achieve - if its a dream sequence / flashback a different aspect may help - use a different colour space - warp the image, have some fun. I'm thinking 'The Crow' - great effect. Hell your talking academy chuck a audio strip on the left... not everyone will get it but it delivers the idea that this is broken away from direct lines of time and dialogue.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 November 2011 - 09:02 AM

A projectionist is likely to show the movie in one aspect ratio, so you have to decide how the two aspect ratios fit within the one that gets projected. For example, for a Digital Cinema release, you could have a 2.40 screening with sections side-matted with black borders to 1.78 or whatever is less wide than 2.40. Or you could have a 1.85 screening with the 2.40 stuff letterboxed top & bottom.

A film festival is likely to be even less savvy with aspect ratios and less likely to deal with DCP's, they are probably going to want a 16x9 HD copy for projection, in which case it is likely that 2.33 would be letterboxed -- so you'd have to decide if the 1.78 footage was boxed inside the 2.33 letterbox or taller than the 2.33 images.
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