Monday 9 June 2014

Aspect ratio-nality

Aspect ratio is the shape of the video picture you view. So we all used to watch this:

Then we moved to this new widescreen aspect ratio in our homes, which is much better:

Movie screens are generally like this:

So when we get a movie to watch at home - DVD, Blu-Ray, stream, download, etc. - it almost always ends up looking like this:

It's ridiculous, and I'd like it to stop. Hence the following:

Dear movie director,

Would you please stop wasting half the space on my TV?

Virtually all of the movies I buy are still in the original cinema aspect ratio, so they only use the middle of the screen, leaving the top and bottom blank.

This dramatically reduces the impact of your film.

I went to the trouble and expense of buying myself a good home cinema. I have digital surround sound, a high definition media player, and a quality TV screen in the industry-standard 16:9 shape.

Industry standard - your industry, your standard.

But you still won't cut your movies to fit it. You still refuse to maximise the experience for home viewing.

The only cogent argument I've heard for keeping the original format is that you made your movie for the cinema screen - everything was shot and framed around that shape, so reducing the width would somehow ruin the viewing experience.

But that's old fashioned bullshit.

When you go to shoot a movie in the modern era, you know for a fact that it will also be released on home video media. It's no surprise to you.

And many movies get more viewings at home on TV screens than they ever got in the cinema - especially by the film's biggest fans, who watch your DVDs over and over again.

So if you're not shooting your films so they also look good when they're cut down for a 16:9 TV, then you're not doing your job properly.

For many years, directors and camera operators who work in television have had to "shoot and protect", choosing every shot so it works on both an old 4:3 tube or a new 16:9 plasma screen. You need to start doing the same thing.

It's not that difficult. You just have to stop being a wanker about the whole cinema experience, like the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is something holy.

It's not. It's just the wider shape that movie studios came up with to help them compete with television.

And we know who won that battle, don't we?

Movies all end up on TV, sooner or later. And the TV networks cut them to fit their viewers' screens. Because it would be stupid to do any less.

If you're making content to show on TVs, it should fit the TVs. I find it unbelievable that you don't understand that.

It's like making take-away food that always falls off the plate. Or clothing that's always two sizes smaller when you get it home.

When VHS tapes first ruled the home video market, every movie got cut to 4:3. That's a much more dramatic narrowing of anyone's artistic vision, yet somehow the movies were generally quite watchable.

The cut from cinema aspect to modern TV aspect is much less drastic. You can do it easily.

And when you do, POW, the difference to the home viewer is huge. The whole TV screen is powering your film into our eyes.

Please do better.

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