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in Filmmaking
on Sep 5, 2006

I’ve vowed not to link to James Ponsoldt’s blog too much since I produced his feature Off the Black, but he’s a prolific writer who is frequently posting pieces that are interesting and useful enough to other filmmakers. So, here I’m busting my conflict-of-interest self-censorship to note his comments on shrinking Tim Orr’s widescreen compositions to 1:1.35 for our video transfer:

On Tim’s off-days, he and I met at Technicolor to begin the color-timing process (for video/DVD) with the brilliant MIKE UNDERWOOD. Mike’s a colorist, and worked with Tim on both “All the Real Girls” and “Undertow.” The two of them have a short-hand and trust between each other, and that’s invaluable when you’re paying by the hour.

The way the timing worked was like this: in a suite at Technicolor, the three of us watched each scene of the film, and discussed the look of every shot–whether it was too dim, too green, too bright, not warm enough, etc. Then, when Tim had seen the entire film and given extensive notes, he went back to the set of “Year of the Dog.” And then it was just Mike and I…. The color-timing process was slow, but actually seemed like “movie magic.” I know that sounds geeky, but it really felt that way. We were creating something beautiful with fun tools, and there’s something a bit scientific–but also a bit magical–to the way it works.

Now, the pan and scan process wasn’t nearly as pleasurable. I sort of wished I had some morphine for that part.

Here’s a simple explanation of a pan and scan, as it related to “Off the Black”:

We shot our film in anamorphic 35mm (a 2.35:1 aspect ratio). That means gorgeous wide-screen, perfect for movie theaters…when you see it you feel like you’re having a slightly epic experience, perhaps dreamlike, certainly different than everyday life.

But…when the DVD of the film comes out, it will offer several options: one will be be letter-boxed, and that’s the ONLY way a film should be watched at home. If you’re not watching that version, you’re not seeing what the director/cinematographer intended.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get to see a film like that.

They see it on a plane, a bus, or most likely, on cable television. The aspect ration for television is 1.33:1 or, as it’s often referred to, 4:3. Which mean, in a nutshell, if you watch at 2.35:1 film on television in a 4:3 format, you’re LOSING ABOUT 45 PERCENT OF THE IMAGE!

That’s incredible. It’s a completely different film…

James goes on to describe that process of making a “completely different film” in the piece linked to above.

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