Often it's decided for you via deliverable requirements/producers. However when you do get to pick, you can justify just about any ratio you want. Basically it's you putting the meaning into the things you choose, it becomes a metaphor you can play with.
For example, 2.35/2.39/2.40:1 can be used to show the giant area, showing the isolation of whomever the main character is. But, at the same time you can also use it to show the closeness and necessity of people to your character, (see punch drunk love for my 630am example of using the ratio for both).
Point being, the ratio, when you get to choose, is often something akin to a piece of lumber, you can build many things out of the same bit of wood, it's all about deciding how you want to use that bit of wood on that particular project that then dictates it's use.
Personally I use aspect ratios to tell a story and I think that most of the people on here will tell you the same thing.
It is one of the tools that you can use to create a narrative arch in a project if you want to and it has a tremendous psychological impact in the viewer when used right even if the viewer doesn't perceive it.
I'm prepping a commercial right now where we have to tell the story of a girl who grows up and goes through different stages in life till she goes travelling and discover the world and her passion.
We will be using 1.66:1, 1.77:1, 1.85:1 and 2.40:1, each for different moments of her life. The aspect ratio will become more panoramic as she discovers more things about her world and gets more experiences.
Hurlbut had a great piece on this for his inner circle.
Before shooting, take into account what or who is being shot. If your main characters have a significant difference in height, it would probably be better to stick with a less cutting aspect ration like 1.77. His photography on The Greatest Game Ever Played would shed some light on the use of 1.77. If you're dealing with many landscapes and wide shots, 2.35 might be a better look for it.
The genre is another consideration. Seth Macfarlane was once quoted saying something to the effect of "comedy doesn't work in widescreen" which sort of makes sense to me. Goofy gags in cinemascope come off as tonally confused, as we're so accustomed to that aspect ratio for thrillers and epics.
Seth Macfarlane was once quoted saying something to the effect of "comedy doesn't work in widescreen"
Which is funny because almost every comedy released in 2017 was 2:35. I made a 2:35 screen for my living room with some foam core and paint and it's rare to have to pillar box a comedy made after 2014. Watched the Amy Schumer / Goldie Hawn comedy, "Snatched" last night... 2:35.
Trouble with cropping a frame shot for one aspect ratio into other aspect ratios is that the cinematographer composed the frame for one and not the others. It would be better to stage your own scene for the camera in different aspect ratios to compare the compositional possibilities.
For every "rule" you can find a good example of the opposite. Plus with widescreen formats like 2.40, there is also the issue of image size. A close-up surrounded by a lot of space in a 2.40 frame may seem "small" on a TV screen letterboxed but fine on a theater screen, particularly one where formats share common top & bottom and not common sides (unfortunately today most new screens do the second.)
I'm sure that the reason "A Million Ways to Die in the West" was shot in 2.40 was just that it was a parody of westerns, many of which were widescreen.
From a purely practical point of view, it is easier to stage group scenes and easier to frame out ceilings in wider aspect ratios and conversely harder to isolate close-ups and harder to frame people of radically different heights (such as a parent standing next to a child) in wider aspect ratios. Old 4:3 movies, for example, had no problem shooting two people sitting in a restaurant and framing for a standing waiter who comes in, all framed under a beautiful arched ceiling. But as I said, there are exceptions to every rule -- for everyone who said it is hard to shoot sailing ships on the sea in widescreen because a ship is a vertical object, there is someone who makes a great sailing movie in 2.40 because the ocean is a horizontal object. Same goes for a man on horseback, a vertical subject, riding across a flat desert, a horizontal subject.
but he must have changed his mind because "A Million Ways to Die in the West" and "Ted 2" were both 2:35.
David said it could be for the sake of parody, but in addition to that, this guy's forte is comedy and animation, neither of which do you find many people who care about aspect ratio enough to make a fuss to the producer.
The first thing I will show, it will be the same frame with different aspect ratio:
Unfortunately, cropping the sides off a 2.40:1 image to get a different aspect ratio, isn't really a great example.
For a better test, you would have the same "width" image, but greater height. Far better to take a movie like The Shining which was shot 1.33:1 but with enough headroom to be cropped down to 1.85:1.
Personally, I like the field of view of more square formats, so I generally shoot everything in 1.66:1 - 1.75:1 in that range, using a "common top". Sometimes directors want 2.40:1 and in that case, I will simply frame for that format, but make sure the 1.75:1 frame is still fine. This way, we can change our minds in post if we want to. I recently shot two shorts with the Dragon in 2.40:1 mode and it worked well, but we were stuck with that aspect ratio. I like to have options in post personally.
My favorite aspect ratio is that of 5 perf 70mm, which is 2.20:1. In my opinion, it's the best of both worlds, width and height. When you watch the 70mm classics, you notice right away how well that aspect ratio works, it delivers excellent vield of view thanks to the 70mm format, but also enough height. I think 2.40:1 is a bit too short and 2:1 is so close to 1.85:1 it doesn't really make that much of a difference.
People say you need "width" but I say you need "big" as IMAX has shown us time and time again with it's 1.44:1 frame.
Seth Macfarlane was once quoted saying something to the effect of "comedy doesn't work in widescreen" which sort of makes sense to me. Goofy gags in cinemascope come off as tonally confused, as we're so accustomed to that aspect ratio for thrillers and epics.
The trouble with generalizing that comedy doesn't work in widescreen is that comedy is not a single genre -- there are romantic comedies, comedic dramas, physical vs. verbal comedies, parodies, etc. Technically, "Manhattan" is a comedy and definitely "Blazing Saddles" is, and both are 2.40. So is the Coen Brothers' "O Brother Where Art Thou?". So are Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tennenbaums". So is Spielberg's "1941". A mixed genre movie is by definition "tonally confused"! I don't think the aspect ratio has ever affected my ability to laugh at a joke.
I don't think the aspect ratio has ever affected my ability to laugh at a joke.
Of course. I was half joking with all my references. My point is that many, many, movies released today are widescreen 2:35... including comedies which didn't used to be. I watched the 1983 "Vacation" a couple nights ago which was 1:85, but the 2015 remake was 2:35.
One of the main reasons, i think, you're seeing more comedy in 2.40:1 is with the switch to digital there isn't the same price difference as there would be back when you were shooting film (and 4 perf anamorphic for 2.40:1) or, when you're on 3-perf, often there would be the argument about protecting for TV (4x3) in a comedy before the rise of 16x9 sets, and then, as they did come out; to using the whole area (waste not want not).
Point being, though, I honestly think you can make ANY aspect ratio work for ANY genre and (almost) any story so long as when you make the commitment to whatever ratio you choose you do so for a reason besides "it looks cool."
Keep in mind that there are more static aspect ratios and more dynamic ones. A circular or square image would not fit motion pictures, they’re only very scarcely employed as much as I know.
Three-to-Five or 1.66 is close to the golden section, therefore calmer. Three-to-Four is dynamic and pulling.
It is the movie format for the best reason there is. Television was 1.33 for the longest time.
Wide (and huge) screens were tried as an answer to the tube, with aspect ratios initially wider than the double square.
I don’t think wide screen aspects help much in telling a story. As a fact one can display characters more easily within a frame and show better horizontally elongated things such as lakes, rivers, a train. One can calm down the cutting pace in favour of the inner assembly, so to speak.
During the heyday of cinema as a part of life, from 1914 to 1939, practically all screen dimensions were 1:1.33. Fox Grandeur couldn’t change it. The chaos we have today with so many aspect ratios is puzzling. Watch (and observe) a classic such as The Women by George Cukor. That is a true black-and-white and color film. Prints were assembled from silver and TC positives. I’ve never missed a wider aspect ratio with it and I have seen it many times because I projected it. If filmmakers would only listen to what projectionists say about movies and image formats! Pano, Scope, Vista, Super, Hyper, Ultra, High Def, it is just ridicule, as ridiculous as Sensurround, THX, Stereophony, Fantasound, Atmos, and whatnot. Today you have to deal with a vertical video syndrome, tiny screens, hash montage, CGI, poor sound reproduction, out-of-synch streaming. Make a 35mm film, Academy aspect, monaural sound, and you’re in. Those who oppose 1.33 simply disprize history.
By the way, early cinema was not standardised. Le Prince shot 1:1, Lumière films have a 4:5 AR, the Latham-Lauste Eidoloscope produced images 3:7. Speed was variable, from 12 fps (flicker free Eidoloscope) through the heavily flickering Lumière machine at some 16 fps up to 46 fps in the Edison-Dickson Kinetoscope.