Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Guide To 70mm: Part Two

Ever since we first heard that PTA would be shooting “The Master” (at least partially) in 70mm, we’ve gotten a lot of questions on what exactly that means for the film. We spoke to editor Thomas Hauerslev to get all the answers you might need.

1. So what is 70mm film? And how does it differ from standard 35mm format? 

70mm is a standard motion picture format which is twice the width of 35mm. The image area is between 3 and 4 times the size of a 35mm frame (depending of if you are shooting flat or anamorphic). Shooting on 65/70mm film offers extremely high resolution images, that gives the audience a different sensation - it's much better in terms of color, sharpness, contrast - it's a life-like image, almost like a 3D sensation, but without the glasses. The 70mm image does not need to be enlarged as much as 35mm on a big screen - gives you razor sharp images. In layman's terms, it's "Motion Pictures HD." Shooting on 65mm is not done every day. "Samsara" which is released in a few weeks is also shot in 65mm film, but released only in 4K Digital format. Complete list of all 65mm films.

2. What is the difference in 70mm and 65mm? 

65mm goes into the camera, 70mm is used in the cinemas - in the old days, 4 strips of iron oxide was applied to the 70mm stock. The iron oxide contained the 6-tracks of magnetic sound, as there was not room enough on the 65mm film. Today, an optical DTASAT time code is applied to the 70mm film. The time code runs a DVD with the 7.1 sound.

3. So how does 70mm differ from IMAX? 

"70mm" and IMAX is the same kind of film material - regular 70mm polyester stock. In an IMAX cinema, the films runs horizontally through the projector. "70mm" runs vertically through the machine. IMAX 70mm is 3 times as large as "70mm." IMAX is 15 perforations per frame - it is VERY large, and offers the ultimate for VERY large screens. "70mm," or Panavision Super 70 which is the correct name in "The Master"'s case, is 5 perforations per frame. The aspect ratio on the screen is 2.21:1, but "The Master" will be cropped a bit to 1.85:1, which is slightly narrower.

4. Could a 70mm IMAX projector play a 70mm non-IMAX film? 

70mm and 35mm is projected vertically like they have been since 1896 - IMAX is projected horizontally - like VistaVision. Theoretically an IMAX projector can show 70mm - only it will be 3 frames at the same time, and the film would be sideways on the screen.

Editors Note: Many IMAX screens are not true IMAX and use digital projectorss instead of 70mm film. In theory these too could play “The Master” (though not in true 70mm quality) but that’s highly, highly unlikely because “Resident Evil: Retribution” will be booked in most IMAX screens beginning September 14th.

5. Have any other notable Hollywood films used the format in recent years? 

Yes, "Samsara" is due for premiere in August 2012, and several short subject films have all been filmed in 65mm. Since 1992, only "Baraka", "Far and Away" and "Hamlet" have been photographed in 65mm.

Editors Note: Movies partially shot using the Panavision System 65/Super 70 include "key sequences" from "Inception," "hyper-reality" scenes from "The New World," selected special effects shots from "Spider-Man 2". The last feature filmed entirely in the format and presented in 70mm appears to be Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" from 1996. Here is a list of all the films that have been released in 70mm.

6. Are there any drawbacks from working with 70mm cameras? Or any reason you can think of that the format has gone out of vogue? 

Let me put it this way - when I interviewed Ken Annakin more than 10 years ago about this, he said:
Q: You usually hear that 65mm cameras are huge, bulky and difficult to move - greatly restricts the Director.

A: Well, as I say, if you were brought up on Technicolor 3-strip, the Todd-AO cameras and Panavision were a "piece of cake" to set up and move. I was happy to use any new system, which gave me a bigger big screen than was possible with 35mm cameras. 
It always comes down to economics, but the decision to shoot in 65mm over 35mm is only adding minimal costs to multi-million dollar films. Maybe even less that 1%. In the old days (1950s and 60s) it was studio decisions to use because it was the old guys running the studios who liked good sharp pictures and even owned to companies. Like Fox owned a huge amount of shares in Todd-AO. It was also prestige I think.

7. It seems like a lot of large scale films have been partially shot in 70mm including “Snow White & The Huntsman,” “Inception,” and “The Tree Of Life” among others. But have any of these films been projected in 70mm? 

No - except "Inception" which was also printed to IMAX format and shown in some IMAX cinemas. Mr. Nolan is also filming Batman in IMAX - 72 minutes in the latest film is shot in 65mm IMAX - that is a world record - and the cinematographer really knows what they are doing with the IMAX camera.

8. How many theatres are even capable of showing 70mm in the U.S. right now? 

Not a lot - on my list. I keep track of films shown in 70mm, and as you can see the list of cinemas in the US is not impressive. There are still cinemas in Europe with 70mm equipment - three of which have annual 70mm festivals.

Editors Note: TimeOut Chicago speculates there may be only around 100 70mm projectors left in the U.S.

9. Do you think the average viewer would notice a difference watching a film being projected at 70mm vs. 35mm? 

Absolutely - for some maybe only on the subconscious level, but indeed they will. Ask your parents if they remember "Lawrence of Arabia" - the film made an impression on many levels for the viewers 50 years ago (besides being a terrific film), and I am convinced the SHARP imaged help the mind to remember - the sharp image simply adds to the memory.

10. If 70mm is transferred down to 35mm, is there any affect on the image? (ie: is it noticeably clearer/sharper than films shot on 35mm?) 

Absolutely, that is why films like "Snow White & The Huntsman," "Inception," and "The Tree Of Life" have key scenes filmed in 65mm - to get better image quality before everything goes into the computer to be edited.

11. How about if it’s shown digitally on 4k projectors? 

Go and see "Samsara" - the image quality is absolutely staggering - filmed in 65mm, scanned at 8k and down-ressed to 4K for cinemas - it is the best picture you can see [currently, short of true 70mm projection or IMAX 70mm].

Editors Note: Top digital projectors show at 4k resolution while it would take roughly 8 or 10k to replicate the quality of the image for 70mm. So while it’ll still look great, you’re only going to be seeing about half the intended quality, which is why you can see Paul really wants this to be shown in 70mm.

12. What about when the film comes to Blu-ray? 

If they scan the 65mm negative and use that for Blu-ray it will look very very good - just take a look at “Baraka,” and many others where 65mm negatives were used as masters.

13. So, where will I be able to see the film in 70mm? 

Update 9/15: Check our theatre listing here.

Editors Note: We’re still waiting on these answers and will surely keep you updated as we receive new information. For now all we know is a rumor posted by 70mm Rumour Mill which says: The classic Village Theatre, in the Westwood Village/West Los Angeles area of L.A. is reported to be in view as a site for a 70mm run of the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson), "The Master". Although the Village hasn't run a 70mm print for many years, a 70mm conversion kit for their venerable Norelco/Philips DP70 has been tracked down, and, pending final decisions and arrangements, it seems likely that L.A. will have its first commercial engagement of a new movie, presented "in the splendor of 70mm" in many years (last known previous one was "Hamlet", back in December 1996).

Update 8/3: Movie City News says:
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest – and the first 70mm release in 16 years – will hit TIFF shortly after it world-premieres at Venice.  (Telluride is out of the mix simply because of logistics.)  The film will play in the built-to-order TIFF venue, The Princess of Wales Theater, used for the first time last year when Jon Demme wanted a higher quality sound system for his premiere of Neil Young: Journeys. Dolby obliged and made the venue–which will shut down “War Horse” for a week to accommodate TIFF–into a world class 7.1 space.  Now, it will add 70mm to the mix.  The anticipation on this one is through the roof and plans are afoot for it to play on every quality 70mm-playing screen in the country… and a few that are having 70mm installed as we speak. It has all the pieces of the puzzle to fit the role of being The Movie… and now, we have to see the movie.

Thanks again to Thomas. Please check out in70mm for the latest news and information on the format.


  1. I have a question: Let's say we're watching The Master with a 70mm projection, will the segments of the film shot on 35mm get blown up to the same size? And when it's blown up will the quality of that portion of the film be downgraded? If so, will it be noticeable?

  2. Also, just to clarify, the only reason why PTA chose to crop at 1.85:1 was for aesthetic reasons, yes?

    (thank you for such a wealth of great information!)

  3. Yeah I have the same question as Cloudy. I just can't get my head around the idea that the film would be switching from "HD" to "SD", back and forth, between scenes and possibly between shots. Just seems weird. Obviously, PTA would avoid that effect - but then if he's avoiding that effect, what's the point of the 70mm????

  4. Who cares we'll all be watching it on our phones anyway.

  5. @ Austin... The difference will NOT be that drastic. I'm sure it will be a bit noticeable (only for us. The average Joe doesn't care about that sort of thing), but not enough to take you out the movie or anything like that. Just trust that PTA is a Master Filmmaker and he would never allow flaws like that ruin his film.

    P.s: I thought Pubrick's unfunny jokes were reserved only for Xixax..... I guess I was wrong....

  6. I would kill for this to come to the Castro Theater in San Francisco which has a 70mm projector. There's going to be screenings of the Vertigo 70mm print there starting the end of the month, which should be glorious. Maybe if we're lucky it'll happen, if not now but down the road.

    Is it too costly to produce a 70mm print of a movie compared to a 35mm transfer?

    1. I've heard they are playing it at the Castro in SF. The owner is doing everything he can to get it.

  7. You might have covered this in the article and I just missed it but I am curious about something. Would a 35mm print of this film look better, worse, or equal to a 4k digital projection?

    1. Editors Note: Top digital projectors show at 4k resolution while it would take roughly 8 or 10k to replicate the quality of the image for 70mm. So while it’ll still look great, you’re only going to be seeing about half the intended quality, which is why you can see Paul really wants this to be shown in 70mm.


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