A Conversation with (Dashrath Manjhi - The Mountain Man) Cinematographer Rajiv Jain
Format and Digital Technologies
by Jacqueline B. Frost
Intro on Aspect ratio for formats
In discussing format it is necessary to understand aspect ratio, because each of the formats mentioned have a different aspect ratio, which has to do with the presentation of your finished project. Aspect ratio is basically the height and width of the frame and it is measured in a ratio that has to do with how much wider the image is in relation to the height of the frame. The ratios are determined by dividing the width of the frame by the height, so sometimes they are written as 1:85:1, or 2:40:1. Regular 16mm film has an aspect ratio of 1:33 which is a square frame, or 4:3 in video, super 16mm has an aspect ratio of 1:66 which means that it is a bit wider than it is tall, but it is not a completion format and is usually blown up to 35mm or presented on High Definition. HD has an aspect ratio of 1:78, regular 35mm film is 1:85 which means it is wider than both super 16mm and HD, super 35mm film has an aspect ratio of 2:35, anamorphic is 2:40 and 70mm is 2:65, these last three are considered wide screen formats.
There are numerous aesthetic reasons to select one aspect ratio over another and definitely aesthetic reasons to choose film over HD or vice versa. As a director it is important that you understand the various formats available so that you can have an educated conversation with your cinematographer and come up with the best format to suit your film.
If you were to pick a format what would be the one that you would suggest?
Rajeev Jain: A lot of people push us into shooting in the anamorphic format, and I used to shoot with anamorphic lenses, but they’re so damn slow; they’re 4.5, and it’s a constant battle to get interiors lifted up, you can do it of course. I resisted super 35mm for a long time, but then I did a film where I had torches and low light levels and had to have 2.8, so I went into super 35mm. In the old days super 35mm had a prism that optically converted super 35 to anamorphic, and everything was fine up to that moment, and the prism was the failure. The end print result for the cinemas in full anamorphic squeeze were a disaster, so I resisted using super 35 for that reason, then all of a sudden they solved the prism problem, so I swung over.
But for Dashrath Manjhi - The Mountain Man – Ketan Mehta and I sat down for a long time and talked about format, why would we go anamorphic and why wouldn’t we go 1:85? 1:85 is an actor’s format, you can get a nicer single out of a 1;85. With anamorphic now you’re going to have the other actor in there somewhere either a little dirty foreground which I like, to relate, but not a clean single. Using anamorphic is a different bag in terms of coverage, so Anthony and I went back and forth with this. No studio was there to tell us what they wanted. Harvey Weinstein had footed the bill and he wasn’t hammering us about format. So we mulled it for a long time and finally the edict we came out with was 1:85 because it’s a movie about people in the desert, not a desert with people in it. So we shook hands on that. A lot of people have argued because the desert is a flat format, which anamorphic fits perfectly and we knew that, but we also argued against Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. It’s fantastic, unbelievable, but we didn’t want to do that. Ketan Mehta said, I will never want to start on a beautiful mountain range and come down and find the movie; we’ll always cut to the movie, and I had to remind him a few times about that when he’d ask,‘could we start there and come down?’…‘No, we can’t, Ketan, the camera is not programmed to do that,’ I’d say. Because you end up cutting those shots out in the end anyway, so we worked very hard to set up a shot that had the desert in the background so then the cars or whatever would bring you right into the movie.