Originally Posted by TheHYPO
I have a question that I hope someone here can answer because I think it's too narrow a question for me to find in a google search.
I understand fully how TV shows which aired before HDTV in 4:3 can go back to the original film negatives and get 16:9 picture because when filming they shot widescreen but cropped for 4:3; so the original film has widescreen information on it.
My question is simply: Why were shows originally shot in widescreen in the first place? I am admittedly unknowledgable about film for the most part, but I understand that depending on what lenses are used, how many perferations tall each frame on the film is and all sorts of other factors, the same stock of film (eg. 35mm) can be used to shoot images in a variety of aspect ratios. Wikipedia suggests that 35mm film was originally used to shoot "Academy" aspect ration which was 1.37:1 (just a bit wider than 4:3).
My question then is why TV shows having no concept of the impending switch to 16:9 would bother wasting so much film and image space by actually shooting the widescreen image only to crop it down to 4:3. Why did they not actually film in 4:3?
Thanks in advance.
They didn't shoot 16x9.
What often happened is the framing of the image would be cropped down a bit within the film image to ensure things like boom mics, lights and the edges of sets stayed out of frame. Then, in the case of shows edited on video, that framing often got even smaller due to the limits of the tape media of the time.
In some cases, they might take a smaller portion of the film frame to adjust the composition of a shot that didn't look right the way it was framed. For example, maybe the director wanted Picard and Riker in the shot, but Dr. Crusher is visible right at the edge. A little cropping creates a proper 2 shot.
That's why you can sometimes go back to the film and find a bit more surrounding information - but it's on all sides, not just on the left and right.
The problem is, there's seldom ever enough to create a full 16x9 image from that. That's why converting 4x3 series to 16x9 pretty much always involves some cropping of the top, bottom or both to get enough image on the left and right. Plus, special effects created in the video world were stuck at 4x3. There's no extra information to be had. That means either recreating them or cropping everything if you want 16x9 images.
In the case of older series both shot and edited onto film, often the home video versions we initially got were taken from the tape masters made for syndication later on when cable TV came about. There's usually a bit of a crop from the original film element to stay away from potential edge damage. Then, there's often a bit more information lost in the transfer to another video medium from that tape master.
Remember, film is roughly 4x3, even when shooting movies. In the case of TV before HD, they used pretty much all the image area. In the case of movies that were not shot anamorphically, the image was usually matted on the top and bottom to form the theatrical aspect ratio - that is, from roughly the mid-1950's on when widescreen movies starting becoming the norm.
Before that, movies were roughly 4x3, which is why TV chose roughly the same aspect ratio.