Cinematography Mailing List - CML

16 : 9 Motivation


Hi all,

There is a project in development (a documentary) to be broadcast at our station that is supposed to be "different" than our regular programs. I proposed that we shoot in letterboxed 16:9. The producers vetoed the idea saying that "TV is supposed to be full screen…why should we have less area of information?"

There is a lot of interviews with couples(making composition in 16:9 a lot smoother) and I feel that 16:9 is a more "natural" composition.

Is there a scientific argument to this preference to a wider composition?

Any thoughts on good argument points to change their minds???


Paulo Zero
TV Globo

I find it's just plain easier to compose stronger compositions. The square format doesn't really emphasize verticals or horizontals that well, because it emphasizes everything equally well. Circles, squares and other shapes with equal sides do very well in the square format. But rectangular frames emphasize rectangles and other shapes whose sides aren't equal, shapes that are perhaps more dynamic.

Horizontal and vertical lines really stand out in 16x9 because they contrast against or emphasize the shape of the frame. It's also easier to emphasize space between objects, and easier to compose in depth because you can see past objects in the foreground.

Diagonals are probably stronger in the square format, but you can also make them work in 16:9.

It's also easier to do the negative space framing that's in vogue right now in interviews.

All the aspect ratios have strengths and weaknesses. I like 16x9 just because it's different. I do find it much easier to compose interesting shots in 16:9 than 4:3.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"

Another argument you can use is to find out what percentage of viewers in your transmission area have already bought wide screen TV's. If the number is significant, ie over 40% you could argue that it would greatly favour your audience to shoot in 16:9! Even if you broadcast in 4:3, most sets are switchable or zoomable to fit a 16:9 picture broadcast in 4:3 nicely into the screen. (At least, over here it is).

Good luck

Roger Simonsz
Switchably In Paris

Good point. If the show will ever air in Europe or Japan, it will do better in 16:9. That's probably a better argument to make.

Someday I hope the U.S. will catch up.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"

I don’t know about scientific, but its always been my thought that wide formats are more natural because of the way we humans see. We have peripheral (sp?) vision that seems to show our brains more side to side than up and down. Some people see 16:9 as a more high-end production look. Then again a ton of regular non-production people think that the top and bottom of the image is being cut off! And they hate that, they feel cheated.

Chad Simcox
"Denver bound and jobless!"

Some arguments for shooting widescreen include :

1) It's more cinematic.

2) The present is moving towards and the future will be widescreen.

3) If you shoot widescreen but protect for "full screen", you can have both, but I really hate working this way, personally.

4) A lot of productions are shooting widescreen as a way of "future proofing" their material. That is, they realize #2 (above) so when they pull their programs out of the archives when widescreen is here for good, they'll be covered.

Keep in mind that shooting widescreen anamorphic is different from simply letterboxing the image. If your program will ever play on a true widescreen TV/monitor, you'll want to shoot anamorphic. If it will only ever be played on a
currently standard "full screen" TV, then you can just letterbox the image. (In post! Don't do it in the camera.)

Dan Coplan
Cinematographer/Editor/DVD Authoring

>Is there a scientific argument to this preference to a wider composition?

You could try arguing that wide-screen formats conform better to the way we humans naturally see (horizontally wider)

On the lighter side, here in the Philippines our colleagues joke around that we cinematographers of Chinese descent have an unfair advantage: we *already* see everything in letterbox, so it's easier for us to compose for it...

Paolo A. Dy
Director / Cinematographer
Manila, Philippines

Ask them to check out PBS where many shows are letter boxed. The interviews on American Experience (The Second Civil War) were a pleasure to watch.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP

>Someday I hope the U.S. will catch up.

PBS seems to be airing a lot of letterboxed material and setting a good example. National Geographic went down in quality in my opinion, but Nova and Frontline are excellent shows. Personally I prefer everything letterboxed.

John Babl

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