Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Shooting 35mm or Super 35mm For 1:1.85

Quick intro. I am an English DP (and sometime director) now semi retired and living in Brussels, Belgium. Sorry but this is a longish initial post as the problem is unusual and I want be sure I have expressed it clearly. Hopefully replies can be infinitely briefer.

I am soon to shoot a Bollywood feature. This film is an Indian production, Indian crewed and serviced out of Mumbai (Bombay). India now has two facilities in Mumbai offering DI post and I have been researching that route with them in India.

However an unusual problem has come up. The huge Indian industry (over 400 feature films a year) is nonetheless 99% domestic. Indian films tend to be culturally rather inaccessible to Western audiences. One side effect of this is that the Indian system has grown in isolation and has some of peculiarities. Not least of these is that all distribution is uniquely and irremediably cinemascope. It is hard even to find spherical lenses in Bombay except for TV commercials, and many cinemas are quite simply not equipped to project non 'scope material.

The film is a serious film (about the troubled relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his eldest son) and is being made bi-lingually, in English as well as Hindi, for export to the world market. Part of the new slowly emerging international Indian cinema.

This is where the fun starts! 'Scope is seen by many western distributors as the kiss of death for general distribution in the European and American market. These distributors are very insistent that they be provided with prints in 1:1.85.

So the question is how to shoot for dual 'scope and 1:1.85 release - not forgetting DVD's either. So far, I haven't found anyone who has actually done a dual release in these two formats as they tend to be mutually exclusive alternatives for each other. Although 'scope release is mandatory for India the producers, nonetheless, view the 1:1.85 release as the more important of the two. So any technical compromise should, if possible, occur in the 'scope release rather than the spherical.

As most of the film has large amounts of low key candlelight and oil light scenes, I anyway want to shoot with the extra lens speed and quality of spherical lenses. So if we take it that we are going to shoot our neg non-anamorphosed, the question becomes how do we best produce the dual format framings without too much quality sacrifice and without going crazy trying to compose them both at shoot time.

The fact that we are considering DI post gives us a number of interesting options for outputting differently from the same source neg, that wouldn't be available by the more conventional routes.

I would like to hear from anyone who has had first hand experience of the areas upon which I shall touch. Some replies will inevitably be speculative as there is not much established procedure here to draw upon. I would prefer sound replies based on experience to too much speculation, but accept that both are inevitable.

My thinking is as follows:-

If I were to shoot Super 35 thus using as much negative width as possible, then how about the following?

The negative is shot non anamorphic using the entire width of the super 35 gate for the scope frame but 'throwing away' the top and bottom to achieve the correct ratio. The 1:1.85 is framed within this by chopping off the sides. Because we are DI this can easily be done symmetrically so that both framings share the same centre. Release prints would be anamorphic for the 'scope release and hard masked 1:1.85 for spherical release.

DVD releases for wide screen TV, would be made from the 1:1.85 release and would be hard masked in a letter box for 4:3 viewing.

This means that when shooting I have a consistent frame height for all releases. Left and right edges would be optimised in composition for 1:1.85 but spare frame space allowed on each side for the 'scope.

This seems to me to be a system that fulfils the rather uncommon requirements but isn't going to drive me completely crazy with conflicting and competing framing and composition problems.

Any thoughts - any ghastly hidden pitfalls waiting in the dark for me?

Assuming this route does make sense then this begs a couple of other very basic questions, as I have never shot Super 35.

Assuming that the lens mount is properly re-cantered to the full gate negative, do I get cover on the normal 35mm lenses without vignetting?

I am guessing the Super primes and Cooke T4's will have been made with S35 in mind. How about the earlier Zeiss Distagons?

Are there any known lenses to avoid?

Lastly how about zooms - Angenieux HR or Cooke Varotal 25-250.

This method will also require a non standard ground glass. Do Arri do a one off service? When I was a youngster rental houses used to mark up ground glasses to order with a simple pencil line. I haven't seen this for a long time now. Do modern ground glasses lend themselves to such cavalier treatment or has this method disappeared because it would damage them?

That's it! Sorry for the length and number of questions.

I hope that someone out there has had the patience to follow this and can help.

Yours Appreciatively

David Macdonald
Directeur de la Photographie
Bruxelles, Belgique

How about Super 35, with markings for 1.85 and 'scope sharing a common top line? The area you sacrifice for Scope is on the bottom of the frame, in 1.85 land.

The headroom stays consistent and you don't lose anything off the sides.

Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"

>'Scope is seen by many western distributors as the kiss of death for >general distribution in the European and American market. These >distributors are very insistent that they be provided with prints in 1:1.85.

That's nonsense. Whoever told you that has no clue about distribution trends (I'd be worried if I were you if that's the level of knowledge being displayed by your distributors). A large number of major Hollywood blockbusters are released in scope prints -- so why would they do that if it was box office poison?

If that's their thinking, they are simply wrong and you should just frame and shoot for scope theatrical release whether in India or the west.

All first-run theatres in Europe and North America can show either scope or flat prints, so why would there be any bias for one or the other for exhibitors?

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

The percentages of 2.39:1 "scope" and 1.85:1 "flat" vary somewhat from year-to-year, but for the USA theatrical market, it's currently about a 50:50 mix.

Check out the "Feature Info & Trailer Attachments" forum on Film-Tech for a complete listing of feature format information for the last few years :

As David said, almost every theatre can show 2.39:1 "scope".

John Pytlak
Eastman Kodak Company

Art Adams writes:

>>How about Super 35, with markings for 1.85 and 'scope sharing a >common top line?

One nice thing about a DI is the option of making vertical positioning adjustments that can help reconcile your two framings. With a common top, haven't you narrowed your post options?

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

>>With a common top, haven't you narrowed your post options?

I guess I can't see a time when you'd want more headroom going from one format to another. Then again, I haven't had a lot of experience with that kind of thing.

Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"
Dramatic License #CA14886


I like the sound of that. Let me make sure that I have understood you correctly.

Instead of removing my 1:1.85 from the centre of the 'scope frame by throwing away the edges I use the full width of the negative and use the extra height available for my 1:1.85. This means that I get a far bigger better 1:1.85 neg. The vertical offset idea simply serves to make the framing easier by maintaining common head room and adding the 'surplus' frame at the bottom only.

Vertical offset ................. Lateral thinking ................
Very smart ............. ;^

>>That's nonsense. Whoever told you that has no clue about distribution >trends ........

I am inclined to agree. I have raised that same question - without receiving a real answer. I am not sure quite what the US and European distributor's motives are. In the end we tend to simply get told 'this is how we want to do it - find a way'. It is not a part of the business to which I can pretend any knowledge. I have to say your comments make perfect sense to me.

David Macdonald
Directeur de la Photographie

John P. Pytlak wrote :

>>Check out the "Feature Info & Trailer Attachments" forum on Film-Tech >for a complete listing of feature format information for the last few years >

John >

Interesting site - thanks for the pointer.

Dan >

I think you would still be left with plenty of spare neg for adjustment and the common top line would make a lot of sense.

I have to confess to being rather seduced by Art's idea.

I was very seduced by Art's common top frame solution. I was interested to later discover an ARRI PDF "format_gude.pdf" which shows this arrangement as an Arri standard ground glass option.

However having just come off the 'phone from Munich I have discovered that this option has a pitfall. It is not recommended if you intend to use zoom lenses. The taller of the two frames, the 1:1.85 is centred on the lense axis. The 1:2.35, because it shares a common top, is not vertically centred relative to lens centre. This means that a zoom will suffer vertical tracking, particularly on it's long end.

If zooms are simple and infrequent then I suppose one could compensate the tracking by tilting, but it's not a particularly tempting prospect.

Pity .....................

Directeur de la Photographie

>> I guess I can't see a time when you'd want more headroom going from >one format to another.

Your instinct is pretty good. Headroom is a problem. Headroom is the reason why common top exists. Any good operator or DP knows where to give the actors a "haircut", and it varies from shot to shot, but I (personally) would never shoot a film with one set of ground glass markings that I used for framing, and then allow that film to be transferred with another completely different framing, especially at the top of frame. When you couple that concern with the tendency of boom operators to dip down just to a frame line (and occasionally further) you end up wasting a lot of negative area, and therefore a lot of negative.

With that said, it is still possible to frame for 1:85, 1:77 and super 2:35 all at the same time. There is room on the film if you shoot 4 perf. But in any compromise, you give something to get something.

The best reason for extracting super 2:35 from the centre of a 4 perf film frame is to avoid the ugly way zooms and motion track off centre. The natural vanish point of any lens is it's optical centre, and it to most cameramen, it looks best to put that optical centre at the centre of the frame. So if you extract any other aspect ratio from that negative, you either reintroduce off centre tracking, or you change the amount of space of the actors heads in the frame.

With regard to the issue of the amount of film wasted by using a common top framing in 4 perf, I will speak from my own experience and say strongly - DON'T GO THERE. The difficulties of doing a project in 3 perf (and inevitably mixed 3 and 4 perf) do not justify the savings on film and developing IMHO. Unless you are lucky enough to get a 3 perf camera or two that will reliably do your whole show, you will inevitably end up mixing 4 perf and 3 perf. That becomes a nightmare.

If you have to do a high speed shot, an underwater shot, a camera in a stunt housing, any of a myriad of specialty shots, you will end up with a 4 perf camera. If one of your 3 perf cameras breaks, there is a strong likelihood the temporary replacement will be 4 perf. You can't order a print of a 3 perf shot, there is nowhere to screen it.

The Assistant Editor will spend nights and weekends trying to figure out which shots are 3 perf and which shots are 4 perf. You will likely get all kinds of mixed up whacked out counts from any edit system. 3 perf telecine is harder to find. 3 perf HD telecine is a difficult proposition. Your VFX shots have to be scanned someplace that has a 3 perf movement. Give me 4 perf any day of the week.

I have designed a little reference jpeg for my own use to illustrate what I call "Common Center, Save Bottom" that I use for framing super 2:35, 1:85 (and by intuition) 1:77 from the same chart with common top.

The priority is placed on correctly optically cantering the super 2:35 frame, and it lets the other framings share common top. It seems to be the best compromise I could come up with for this problem. I have not hard drawn the HD markings into this chart because I am looking into what kind of "safe area" to define for HD.

I would like to ask what experiences of underscan and overscan in displaying HD that others on this list have had. Do most monitors or televisions show the whole picture? My tendency is to want to centre my 1:77 extraction around my 1:85 markings for underscan safety, rather than creating a third common top reticle. cml members please chime in here.

Dave Stump ASC
VFX Supervisor/DP
LA, Calif.

>>I have to confess to being rather seduced by Art's idea.

I'm such the intellectual seducer.

I'm pretty sure a friend of mine shot the first two Prophecy movies this way. I believe The Abyss was also shot common top line.

Art Adams, DP [film|hidef|video]
San Francisco Bay Area - "Silicon Valley"

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