So there’s this big debate going on in the world wide interwebs over some recent decisions made acclaimed, multi-award-winning filmmakers Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and James “King of the World” Cameron. Is the fuss over some provocative film they’re creating that is challenging some social injustice? Nah! Oh, maybe the debate is over some decision to exploit workers in a 3rd world country. Nope. Did they kill somebody? Not that either.
The reason over the fuss is…drum roll please…frame rates. Huh? That’s right my good friends. Frame rates. They each want to shoot their next big films (“The Hobbit” and “Avatar 2”, respectively) at 48 and 60 frames per second (fps), and it’s got a lot of filmmakers rather distraught. You got filmmakers on the web ready to go to blows because of frame rates. (Ah, you gotta love the passion of artists. 🙂 )
Here’s the dealio…
Movies are traditionally shot at 24 frames per second. Traditional NTSC video (popular in America) has been at 29.97 fps, which is really comprised of 60 interlaced frames. (Read this post for a quick “primer” on interlaced vs. progressive). The video look of 60i is what is typically associated with soap operas. 24p (“p” standing for progressive, i.e. not interlaced) has that softer “cinematic” look. So, the concern is that when filmmakers as influential as Messrs. Jackson and Cameron choose a higher, more video-like frame rate, that either a) these two films won’t look as aesthetically pleasing or 2) we’ll be deluged with other filmmakers doing the same, forever killing off the 24p.
Now. I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut in this big bad world of filmmaking, so who really cares what I think? But, just in case one or two of you out there care to indulge me, here are my quick thoughts on the subject matter.
- Serving the story. Peter and Jim have proven their abilities beyond any shadow of a doubt. I have full confidence that they are choosing these frame rates because they know it will genuinely serve the story. (As opposed to studios who jump on a bandwagon just because it’s the latest “thing.” I can totally see how 3D served the story in “Avatar.” But come on, did “Jackass 3” really need to be in 3D?)
- Frame rate is only one component to a look. Just because you shoot a movie at 24 fps don’t mean it will look cinematic. There’s also lens choice, composition, color grading, special effects, etc. There’s just so much one can do to make their movie look cinematic. (Don’t believe me, just read this. 😉 ) I have absolutely no concern that “The Hobbit” or “Avatar 2” will look like soap operas.
- There are technical justifications. Because of how 3D technology works, it actually makes more sense to shoot in 48 or 60 fps vs. 24. (It’ll take too long to explain why. Google it if you really care. It’s related to how many images each of your two eyes see and how those images are presented to the brain. Send a tweet to my buddy Evan Vetter. He’ll tell you. 😉 )
- Pushing the envelope. Peter and Jim are pushing the envelope. This is a good thing. These are capable directors with a deep knowledge of the technology and craft. If they are able to accomplish whatever it is they are attempting, it could mean a significant step forward for the art of filmmaking that will benefit other filmmakers. They are trailblazers. Visionaries. It’s not uncommon for true visionaries to look like fools in the beginning. That’s why they’re called “visionaries.” They can see what others cannot.
I guess it all comes down to trust. Can we trust these two to deliver on the goods, and create something that will genuinely benefit the art, not detract. Only time will tell. What say you?
Behind the Scenes on “The Hobbit”
If you haven’t already seen this, and if you consider yourself a Tokien-geek like me, you will want to watch this behind the scenes video blog with Jackson on the set of “The Hobbit.” Includes appearances from from Sir Ian McKellen (aka “Gandolf”) and Andy Serkis (aka “Gollum”). And just so there’s no confusion, I did not make this video.
If you cannot see this video in your RSS reader or email, click here.