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in Filmmaking
on Aug 12, 2009

Yesterday I took note of a lead item posted by Ray Pride at Movie City News: a Steven Soderbergh-authored piece for the Directors Guild Quarterly on the movement in the HD world to make 16:9 a default format for a theatrically released film when released on video. I saw the headline, meant to click back to it, but then the magazine’s site went down. Fortunately, I was forwarded a link to the cached version this morning. (You have to scroll down the page to get to the article.) Here’s Soderbergh on the crux of the issue:

Television operators, the people who buy and produce things for people to watch on TV, are taking the position that films photographed in the 2.40:1 ratio should be blown up or chopped up to fit a 16:9 (1.78:1) ratio. They are taking the position that the viewers of television do not like watching 2.40 films letterboxed to fit their 16:9 screens, and that a film insisting on this is worth significantly less—or even nothing—to them. They are taking the position that no one will dare challenge them and risk losing revenue. The logic used to make you, the filmmaker, conform to this belief makes a pretzel look like a ruler: you are told you shouldn’t care whether your 2.40 film is turned into a 1.78 film because there really isn’t that much of a difference, while in the same breath you are told viewers notice the difference enough to complain about it.

The end result is we have a better chance of seeing a 2.40 film from 1959 in its proper format than a movie from 2009.

That’s weird, and sad.

Read the rest of the piece to understand that the issue here is not a technological one but one that can be influenced by consumer and filmmaker preference.

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