Ask Alan Smithee-'Full screen' isn't the whole picture-From AJC

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Nathan_Wade, Apr 30, 2004.

  1. Nathan_Wade

    Nathan_Wade Auditioning

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    I want to share this article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution Movie section...(I can't post links yet[​IMG] )

    [ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 4/23/04 ]
    ASK ALAN SMITHEE
    Got a Movie Question?


    Dear Mr. Smithee,

    Would you please help a rapidly aging baby boomer? I went in search of a couple of my favorite films on DVD. I would prefer them in the "letterbox" format. However, the only "special editions" were marked as "widescreen." I'm confused (no surprise to those who know me). Is "widescreen" the same as, similar to, or completely different from "letterbox"?

    Susan Kosturik, Alpharetta


    P.S. I adore your column! I think under your tough, curmudgeon exterior beats the heart of an old softy, but your secret is safe with me!


    Dear Adorable,

    One need only glance in the wake of my moving presence and witness the wailing and suffering and "Oh, the humanity" from what is left of the shattered breed known as movie publicists to realize that Alan Smithee is, without question, no old softy.

    But, yes, I have been known to spare a few kind words in my life. It is part of my mission to be a beacon of light to the less cinematic (such as yourself, perhaps?).

    To answer your question -- is "widescreen" the same as "letterbox"? -- I simply must respond, "Well, yes. Duh!"

    They both mean that you get the entire screen's worth of movie on your television. And it's smart of you to choose that format, because "formatted to fit your screen" or the disgustingly ugly misnomer "full screen" is a travesty foisted upon the moviegoing lemmings who somehow are content with inferiority in their cinema.

    To say it as simply as possible: a movie screen is a long, wide rectangle, and many, if not most, TVs are still square. If you fit an entire movie screen's worth of image on a square TV, it will end up with a black band of space at the top and bottom of the screen.

    When they say "full screen" or "formatted to fit your screen," it means the two far ends of the movie screen have been chopped off so that the movie image fills your entire square TV screen.

    That might sound just fine, but it means you will miss part of what's happening. You are not seeing the movie as the director intended it to be seen. You might also, for example, have a frame of Luke Skywalker and not even realize that Han Solo is supposed to be there, too -- on the far edge of the screen.

    There is a wonderful Web site -- widescreen.org -- that illustrates how it all works.

    My son, D.W., refuses to watch any film on television or computer unless it is widescreen.

    It is amazing to me how much the public still misunderstands the process.

    I was at Circuit City not too long ago and this nice, lovely lady was determined to purchase "Scarface" in "full screen" format. The clerk (a good fellow, I must say) asked her if she was sure she didn't want widescreen.

    "Oh, I want full frame so that I can see the whole movie," she said with all the incredibly ignorant innocence she could muster. "That other way cuts off the top and bottom."

    You know me. I stepped in with the full force of my wingtips and set her straight. In other words: "Say hello to my little friend!"

    You can bet she exited Circuit City that day with a widescreen copy of "Scarface" in hand.

    Alan


    P.S. For your question, you get a "Thelma & Louise" hair dryer.

    Who is Alan Smithee?
    It's a name used for crediting purposes when directors want to disassociate themselves from a movie they've worked on. However, we're not too ashamed to ask him to answer readers' questions.

    Have a question for Mr. Smithee? E-mail your queries and comments to [email protected]. You must include your name, city and daytime phone number for verification.

    Smithee can't reply to every request, but inquiries chosen for publication will receive movie prizes (like a special screening pass, T-shirt or other movie promotional trinket).
     
  2. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    Amusing, maybe, but whoever this person is still doesn't quite get it, eh?

    Many movies are appropriately viewed "full screen," anything before 1953, and anything originating on television.
     
  3. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris Screenwriter

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    I smell another what does "fullscreen", "widescreen", "OAR", etc. really mean thread developing. [​IMG]
     
  4. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    The thing that somewhat irritates me is that when info about widescreen is given like above, it is suggested that full screen always means Pan and Scan which is not entirely true. It gets explained wrong to people which is not good for really educating people about OAR. For example, that woman with her new knowledge about "Formatted to fit your screen" may come upon someone who has read something about Super35 who thinks that Widescreen cuts off the top and bottom of the picture. Imagine that arguement.
     
  5. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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  6. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Send him an email like this:

    "Alan,

    I took your advice. I wanted Citizen Kane, but they tried to tell me that the 'full screen' dvd (which I know from your previous column is pan & scan) was the only one available. This can't be true can it? There must be a widescreen version of Citizen Kane that will allow me to see the whole movie like you suggested. As a matter of fact I'm having a hard time finding widescreen dvds of a lot of films I want (e.g., The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, Double Indemnity, Stalag 17). For some reason all of these dvds are pan & scan only! Help!"
     
  7. Matt Czyz

    Matt Czyz Supporting Actor

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    C'mon, the guy's trying to help. Be nice.
     
  8. Joshua Clinard

    Joshua Clinard Screenwriter

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    Kudos to the Journal for printing the article. I do not think the writer would have served the audience if he had discussed aspect ratios. To do that would simply bore the average reader. The writer simply states that when people watch full screen, they don't see the entire picture that they saw in the theater - which is true in almost all cases. And the article does tell them to go to widescreen.org for more information on how the formatting process works. There, they will find out about Super35, and movies originally shot in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
     
  9. Chris Farmer

    Chris Farmer Screenwriter

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    On top of that, people writing into a column like that are far less likely to be going after the older movie. Sure, you get some people who go after them, but most of the people who are looking for older movies are going to be pretty well educated on the matter. Besides that, those are never labeled fullscreen anyway, the aspect ratio is usually listed on the back as "Standard."
     
  10. Peter Kline

    Peter Kline Cinematographer

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    Alan isn't directing films anymore?
     
  11. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    Nope, Alan retired shortly after Burn, Hollywood! Burn! because he was getting too widely recognized outside the film industry by the general public (he preferred reclusive anonimity [​IMG] ). He now merchandizes movie popcorn. (At least with Cineplex theatres) [​IMG] but still directs occasionally.

    He did, however, direct a couple of episodes of Law & Order:SVU in 1999 and wrote for the 2000 Juno Awards.

    There are two or three other directors that have taken up the slack, including newcomer Thomas Lee (stepping in for Walter Hill on Supernova), just to confuse the issue...
     
  12. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Not exactly a young kid asking the question.
     
  13. Randy A Salas

    Randy A Salas Screenwriter

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    All the complaints here ignore a basic reality of newspapers vs. a web site (for example): Newspapers have finite space.

    The Alan Smithee column is a regular feature that generally takes up the same space each week in the Journal-Constitution. The writer usually answers three, sometimes four questions in a column. This week's had only two because of the space the writer devoted to the leading widescreen question--more space than he usually devotes to any one question.

    The thing about writing for a newspaper is that you never have enough space to say everything you want. So, on a subject like this, you have to say as much as you can in as interesting a way as possible, and then refer readers who want additional info to another source. The writer did all that.

    I did everything you guys are asking for from this little column last year in the Star Tribune: Widescreen 101, a full blow-by-blow account of widescreen, OAR, open-matte, blah blah blah. It took a huge cover story and five weeks' worth of follow-up lessons to do it--and even with that, I was continually fighting to explain complex topics in as succint a way as possible because of space limitations.

    Give Alan Smithee a break and quit whining. He's on your side.
     
  14. Joshua Clinard

    Joshua Clinard Screenwriter

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    Randy,

    I never could find lessons 4, 5, and 6 of your Widescreen 101 series on the web site, and I even registered and checked back for weeks after the first 3 lessons. If you still have links to the lessons or PDF's could you send them to me? I would be willing to host them for others to download if you don't have the space.
     
  15. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris Screenwriter

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    Thank you Randy.
     
  16. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    good to know then

    [​IMG]
     
  17. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris Screenwriter

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    Q&A from Ebert's "Answer Man" column. Looks like there is a lot of education left to be done.

    Q. Why is it that films released before the 1950s are not available on DVD in widescreen? I realize this was the pre-Cinemascope era, but weren't the old movie screens rectangular rather than square like the TV sets?

    I ask because the double-disc version of "Casablanca" (for which you provided a commentary) is only available in "standard" form. The recent Chaplin reissues are also full-screen only, not to mention "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "The Birth of a Nation" and countless others. Why would you participate in a DVD project that would not showcase your favorite film the way it was shown in the cinemas?

    Dennis Earl, Hamilton, Ontario


    A. The widescreen format was not introduced until 1954. Before that, virtually ALL movies were shot in the ratio of 1:1.33. That's not square, and neither is your TV set, but four units wide for every three units high.

    The movies you mention are presented correctly on those videos. If they were wide-screen, that would involve chopping off some of the top and bottom of the original picture -- an experiment that was actually tried with "Gone With the Wind" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," with disastrous results.
     
  18. Joshua Clinard

    Joshua Clinard Screenwriter

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    I'm glad Roger addressed that question in his column. Hopefully many people will see it and understand that not all films are shot widescreen.

    All 6 lessons of Widescreen 101 can now be found at Widescreen Advocate
     
  19. Michael St. Clair

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    He did pretty good, but should have added three or four simple words like 'most modern movies' or 'films from recent decades'.

    I agree to give the guy a break.
     
  20. Jeannette Walsh

    Jeannette Walsh Stunt Coordinator

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    Does Alan Smithee's phone number start with 555 by any chance?
     

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