“Windows to Our World”
We’ve all been inside big-box stores, jammed end-to-end with large-screen HDTVs, only to find, as we approach these Coliseum-like displays, images that look nothing like what we, the filmmakers intended.
Rather than the complex interplay between light and dark over which we labored, employing texture, focus, depth, and resolution to illuminate character, story, and moral dilemmas, we are confronted with garishly bright and saturated images that look like an under-budgeted telenovela shot on low-end video. Any semblance of the artistic efforts spent on set have been obliterated; it is truly like walking into a stadium moments before kick-off (or as in the above metaphor, just before the gladiators enter the ring), all to ensure images consumed in the home are as close to a “live event” as humanly possible.
The reason is that manufacturers ship products with a “motion interpolation” option switched on as default, thereby reducing motion blur on HD and UltraHD displays. One side effect of motion interpolation is that media captured on film at 24 fps becomes an image that looks like it was captured on video at 60i. In simple terms, that wall of light and color fury engulfing the average home-theater consumer removes the cinematic look (and artistic intent) of a vast swath of work created by this Guild, replaced by a jarring “you are there” look attuned to live sports and concerts.
Thankfully, concerned Local 600 members are fighting back. A recent online petition, (www.bit.do/ShowAsShot) created and circulated by Reed Morano, ASC, has garnered nearly 10,000 digital signatures in just a few weeks. Reed’s “Stop Motion Interpolation” campaign is not an assault on free-market economics; she’s simply asking display manufacturers not to ship their products with the “smooth motion” option set as default. Switching it off often requires consumers to dig deep into sophisticated technical menus.
This petition also provides an easy fix, asking manufacturers to provide clear and simply marked buttons on the display’s remote. Viewers could effortlessly toggle between a “cinema look” with motion interpolation shut off, and a “sports look” with the option flipped on. Either way, the goal is to give audiences the chance to see our movies and television series as they were intended, and not as re-interpreted live data for a digitally stressed-out world.
This campaign harks back to 1988 when Turner Classic Movies colorized the Oscar-winning black and white classic Casablanca. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert called it “the saddest day in the history of movies,” stressing that the craft involved in lighting a black and white movie is a monumental contribution to cinema as an art form.
“With black and white, everything would tend toward a shapeless blur if it were not for meticulous attention to light and shadow, which can actually create a world in which the lighting creates a hierarchy of moral values,” Ebert noted in an op-ed a week before the Turner broadcast.
Motion interpolation, while perhaps not as overtly grievous a sin as desecrating Arthur Edeson’s classic cinematography, carries the potential for long-term damage to our craft – if consumers only see films and TV series on displays with “smooth motion” filters turned on, they will gradually assume that is the way the creators intended the images to look.
Ultrahigh-resolution displays do provide a unique experience that Local 600 members involved in shooting live sports, concerts, and pay-per-view events have clearly mastered. In fact, 4K and larger delivery to our displays was something many of us urged manufacturers (years ago) to embrace, because it was the closest equivalency to reproducing the 35-mm experience in a theater. But with image capture and delivery in resolutions of 6K and 8K on the horizon, the experience becomes so acute, it’s like looking through the cleanest of windows. That’s great for a myriad of live-event-type productions. But not necessarily for cinema or television, which demand that crucial element of the suspension of disbelief to enter a narrative story. And given the sensitivity of new digital sensors, we are now trying to find ways to conceal, hide, and shield information, to better protect the subtle, narrative artistry in our images.
I urge everyone to sign Reed’s petition.
Allow audiences to see the world exactly as we do.
Steven Poster, ASC
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600