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Aspect ratio questions


Matt Rosen
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A question occurred to me while reading the debate on aspect ratio in the Student Filmmakers forum. It was a little off-topic, so I decided to make a new thread.

 

When I was working as a projectionist, we would often get multiple prints of the same film in different aspect ratios and have to switch between standard and scope lenses depending on which was playing.

 

Why would one film be released in multiple formats (not counting 4:3 broadcast standards)?

 

Also, how does one convert from one ratio to another without cropping or stretching the image?

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Correct, 35mm prints.

 

Unfortunately this was about two years ago, so I don't recall any specific films. I suppose my memory could be clouded, since that seems to be the most likely scenario.

 

Let's assume for now that I am mistaken. According to David, this happens with trailers in either case. How would one go about converting the aspect ratio of a trailer? Is it more likely to be cropped or squeezed, or is there some way around these issues?

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They make trailers to go before scope and flat movies, so they make a version of the trailer in both types so the projectionist doesn't have to change the lenses or the screen masking between the trailers and the movie.

 

As for whether they crop the trailer image versus letterbox it to retain the theatrical framing, it just depends, but often they crop the image to match the flat or scope ratio of the feature that follows the trailer. Black borders are less common.

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Here in Europe, all trailers are flat and the projectionist has to change the lens before a scope main feature. That's a bit annoying, because if the focus is off, you only see it once the film has started.

 

I really doubt there are films in different aspect ratios, especially going from scope to 1.85 or vice versa would require either an optical or a digital step and no filmmaker would stand for that.

 

The only instance I seem to recall is 'The Painted Veil' where Adam said that although it was shot Super 35, it was projected 16/9 in theatres with a digital projector.

 

I've seen 'Elephant' which was Academy, projected 1.85 because the theatre didn't have the correct lens. Luckily the filmmakers had protected the framing for that eventuality and it wasn't too annoying (no cropped heads...)

 

The weirdest thing I've ever seen was a 4/3 Pan & Scan print of a scope film that was projected 1.85. That was truly disturbing, as less than half of original the image ended up on screen...

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I remember The Horse Whisperer changing from 1.85 to 2.35 once they got out of the city. According to IMDB it looks like they just cropped the sides for 1.85 in the beginning as opposed to actually changing the lens in the middle of the movie, but I do remember the curtains on the sides opening when it went to 2.35.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119314/technical

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I remember The Horse Whisperer changing from 1.85 to 2.35 ...............

"Galaxy Quest" goes from 4:3 to 1.85 to 2.35. First the TV series at 4:3, then the first reel or so at 1.85, and then to 2.35 scope when they see the real Protector for the first time. The DVD's don't change but the 35mm prints go through the aspect ratio evolution. I was lucky to see it first run in a house that had programmable curtains so when it went from 1.85 to 2.35 the screen curtains also opened up. Kudo's to the projectionist who spent the time to program his/her curtains to follow the movie.

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"Galaxy Quest" goes from 4:3 to 1.85 to 2.35. First the TV series at 4:3, then the first reel or so at 1.85, and then to 2.35 scope when they see the real Protector for the first time. The DVD's don't change but the 35mm prints go through the aspect ratio evolution. I was lucky to see it first run in a house that had programmable curtains so when it went from 1.85 to 2.35 the screen curtains also opened up. Kudo's to the projectionist who spent the time to program his/her curtains to follow the movie.

 

Yes, but in all those examples, it was a single scope print and the only thing that changed was the black borders on the sides of the printed image.

 

I can't think of any release where some reels were flat and others were scope.

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They make trailers to go before scope and flat movies, so they make a version of the trailer in both types so the projectionist doesn't have to change the lenses or the screen masking between the trailers and the movie.

In most cases, there isn't a projectionist. The whole show is built on a platter system, everything spliced into one huge piece, trailers and all. The routine is to start the popcorn machine, go upstairs and thread the projector, then back downstairs to sell popcorn.

 

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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Guest John Lasher

I remember reading somewhere about 35mm TV prints of VistaVision titles that were printed full height (where the theatrical prints were hard-matted to 1.66:1)

 

Also, apparently films which were shot Super35 for anamorphic blowup used to have flat prints struck for test screenings (but everything was off-center)

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Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Mystère Picasso (1956) apparently changes from Academy to Scope between reels. I haven't seen it myself... but a veteran projectionist told me that just before the changeover, Picasso is painting something on a small canvas. Suddenly he shouts "I need more room!" or something to that effect, and he gets what he wants right away as the picture widens to scope.

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Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Mystère Picasso (1956) apparently changes from Academy to Scope between reels. I haven't seen it myself... but a veteran projectionist told me that just before the changeover, Picasso is painting something on a small canvas. Suddenly he shouts "I need more room!" or something to that effect, and he gets what he wants right away as the picture widens to scope.

That would be quite a challenge for a projectionist unless it's the second reel of a two projector changeover booth setup, the first projector set up flat, the second scope. Scope lenses (they're actually most often an adapter on a standard lens) need to be rotated by eye while watching the screen to exactly horizontal when installed. Otherwise you get a picture that's stretched at an angle. Neither my Sankor nor Isco adapters have markings for pre-alignment, only projection distance focus markings.

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