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Old December 24th, 2009, 10:57 PM   #1
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letterbox or pillarbox? Weird decision

Hi. IN another thread I mentioned getting into a fairly prominent festival with my short film. Now I have a strange decision to make.

A little background: the short is 17 minutes. It concerns to dudes making an no budget indie movie. The beginning of the movie shows them in "real life" getting inspired to do so. Then we get to watch the movie they've made, then we go back to "real life" and they tell each other how awesome it was.

This was all shot on an XL2

For the "real life" portions, I shot widescreen, and for the homemade movie, 4:3. The homemade movie is supposed to look like it was shot on VHS and therefore should not be widescreen.

The way I've always had the film is 4:3 all the way through, with the widescreen stuff letterboxed, and the rest full frame.

Ah, but now I'm in a fest where I must necessarily uprez everything to 1920x1080 and put it on an HDCAM tape. So, they're going to project widescreen regardless of shooting/post formats.

So I can KEEP it the way it's always been, and it will be pillarboxed the whole time, with the already letterboxed stuff being doubly letterboxed, a tiny rectangular frame inside of a massive expanse of black, OR, I can make the "real life" stuff true widescreen so that it fills the frame, and only pillarbox the 4:3 stuff.

I realize this second option would be unusual and weird, but at least some of the movie (almost 5 minutes out of the 17) would fill the screen.

Someone I mentioned this to brought up the point that if I left it as it's always been, a 4:3 project, perhaps during the screenings they could just close the curtains some on either side to hide the pillarboxed/black area.

I don't know which is better anymore. I know one (4:3 all the way) is more natural, that is, what folks are used to seeing on TV, but I don't know if that means it's better. Also haven't heard back if they can accommodate my weird-ass format mixing yet with curtain tricks yet. IF not, seems like this 16:9/4:3 mix would be the way to go.

Anyone dealt with this? Thoughts?
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Old December 24th, 2009, 11:11 PM   #2
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no i wouldnt mix, except for exactally what your doing :-)
if i understood it right, i would have the wide screen be full widescreen if it is 16x9 then that part shouldnt be letterboxed. then when you go 3x4 for the Camcorder look it would be pillerboxed, or even worse, smaller then the whole frame and pillerboxed too.

Just like the capture, you will want the dispay to use as many of its pixels as it can use, whenever possible so its resolution capabilities are not lost. Plus you will want to be as large on the screen as you can get if displaying in a large venue.

If the dispay is going to be 3x4 itself, i think the same thing would apply still, your widescreen stuff would show letterboxed on the 3x4 then the camcorder looking stuff would have a black frame all around like showing a old 8mm film thing using less of the picture.

because your upconverting everything, it still does become a difficult situation, because upconverting isnt going to be as wonderfull as other things that will have been shot in HD to begin with. But if you have a good script, and a good film it will still be enjoyed.
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Old December 24th, 2009, 11:22 PM   #3
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That's what I thought. Thing is, people are used to seeing 16:9 stuff letterboxed on TV (or were), but I've only ever seen pillarboxing on new widscreen TVs showing 4:3 material.

If I wasn't clear before, I've been living with this project in completed form for a long time, and it's always been 4:3 all the way through. the 16:9 stuff is letterboxed, the 4:3 fills the 720x480 area. The reason I went with that decision in the first place is cause the first version of the film, at a whopping 33 minutes, was mostly the 4:3 stuff, and it seemed silly to have a pillarboxed image just to acknowledge 5 or 6 minutes of widescreen. I figured make it all uniform.

I've cut it down to 17 minutes for this fest, so the ratio of widescreen to full (5 mins/12 mins) is not so drastic.
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Old December 24th, 2009, 11:27 PM   #4
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ahh, now i understand better your TIME thing, which i did read the first time but it didnt click. You end up with the 3x4 Effects shot being most of the film.
The letterbox probably isnt letterbox Squeeze either, it probably has less resolution than the 3x4 being cut out of the 3x4 , making the descision even harder, when up converting.

as long as the display is 16x9 there is no other way i would percieve it, the 3x4 WILL be pillarboxed if you dont want the Widescreen part to be the small frame thing in the center, it will be full screen. making the 16x9 the small screen in the center would set it to be the 8mm film being made (so to speak)
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Old December 24th, 2009, 11:38 PM   #5
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Yes, you are correct. When letterboxed the PICTURE area is, what, 720x360? with black bars on top and bottom. When I upconvert, if I go the "all 4:3" way, I would maintain the letterbox. If I go true anamorphic on those parts, I would use the original widescreen footage (960x480 or 720x480 anamorphic or whatever), NOT the old letterboxed stuff.

I've gotten to where I will have both versions ready to go, just have to decide which goes to HD tape. They already have a DVD in 4:3 as backup in case my tapes or their deck fails, so it comes down to that then my decision's already made for me!
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Old December 25th, 2009, 01:00 AM   #6
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Many years ago I shot an actual film (real film) this way. We mixed "Feature" footage (35mm 1.85 widescreen) with "Documentary" footage (16mm 1.33). So when projected, the widescreen stuff filled the theater screen and the doc stuff was the old equivalent of "Pillarboxed." It made the point about the differences in content and looked fine.

(When we went to VHS, we did essentially the opposite: the widescreen stuff was letterboxed for display on a standard 4:3 TV, and the 4:3 stuff was full screen. But if you looked at the video today on a widescreen TV, the widescreen stuff would be both letterboxed AND pillar-boxed, which always looks silly at best and horrible at worst, and the 4:3 stuff would be just pillarboxed.)

As your XL2 has a true widescreen chip, I'd take advantage of that by going full widescreen for the widescreen stuff, no letterboxing, and just pillar-boxing for the 4:3 stuff.
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