Wider is Better

Wider is Better

I love widescreen films. When I was a teen-ager I was a projectionist for a small 2nd run movie theater. While learning to thread the projector and make splices I also got my first gleaning of aspect ratio, when I was taught the difference between a “scope” film and a “flat” film.
A “scope” film is based in on cinemascope and features a very wide 2.35 aspect ratio:

While “flat” films are based on the normal Academy Aspect ratio of 1.85:

I remember seeing those “scope” movies and getting that more epic feel from them. I was always disappointed when watching these films on TV or VHS because TV’s are a 4:3 (or 1.33) aspect ratio:

It’s nearly square, not the epic rectangular ratio of widescreen film. So in order to fit this widescreen image on your TV, they cut the edges off! We were missing half the movie!

So I was very happy when DVD’s arrived and preserved the aspect ratio through letterboxing. As a digital filmmaker I always wanted to get the widescreen epic feeling, but until DVD burning became affordable I was always forced to fake widescreen by cropping a 4:3 image. Sure cameras like my trusty old Canon XL1 had an electronic squeeze mode, but in order to view it properly on a 4:3 screen I still had to create a letterboxed master for distribution. I was again saved by the advent of DVD’s. Since the DVD format allows for anamorphic widescreen films as described above, I’m able to work natively in 16:9 wide format and finish the project that way. All consumer DVD players are smart enough to recognize this material and automagically letterbox it to fit on your 4:3 screen or display it full screen on a widescreen television. It’ll also introduce pulldown for 24 fps film or video as well, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So go ahead and shoot widescreen. We have the technology. Let’s use it.


Filmmaker. Themed Entertainment Designer.

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