FILM: Ask a Film Student: Question 2

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Jordan Petersen

Jordan Petersen

This title is a bit disingenuous, since I’ll be answering several question — but they’re short enough that it’s not an unreasonable thing to do.

Plus, I’m just certain that you are continually hungry for more more MORE of my thoughts and opinions. And so (I say benevolently) you shall have them. Here they are.

The first question posted in response to last week’s article was this:

Y [Why] did u [you] have ti [to] make this blog [post/article] so looooooong [long]?

A fair question. First of all, I should clarify, that no one actually forced me into a specific length. I started writing, and then at one point I stopped, and that’s pretty much the whole story.

But I recognize that reading is difficult, especially stuff from an obtuse, meandering fool of a writer like myself. So if you get to a point at which your eyes get tired of flicking back and forth across the lines of text I’ve constructed, then please stop. My greatest fear is that I’ll cause you some kind of discomfort or fatigue.

Now, for those of you that are still with me, here’s the next question:

When you have kids and they want to watch a movie that isn’t in wide screen format, will you refuse?

This one’s from my mother, which is embarrassing, especially since it’s so pointed and calculating. She’s upset because I won’t watch movies with her if they’re “Full Screen,” which is a choice motivated by strong personal taste and principle.

Considering, however, the proliferation of widescreen televisions (you can no longer buy, I believe, a new screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio) and the almost universal trend of shooting even television series in HD format (16:9), I sincerely doubt that films will continue to be reformatted to fit those antiquated boxes. The option of buying a film in either “Full Screen” or “Widescreen” will gradually disappear. And I’ve got at least a decade before I’ll be faced with that particular scenario (i.e. refusing to watch a film with my children — I’m 24 and unmarried — that has been butchered by reformatting.)

So, to answer more succinctly, yes. I would refuse. Just like you would refuse to watch listen to your favorite TV show with me if I requested that the screen be blacked out–”It’s just so much less distracting if I don’t have to bother with all those moving images.”

The third and final question I’ll answer this week comes from Austin Smith (or so he claims — there’s really no way to verify these kinds of things):

Explain [to] me cinematography; I mean, I get what it is, and sometimes I just really like the way a scene looks so I say it has good cinematography, but really, what do you look for and why?

Well, Austin, I mostly just like pretty things. So if there’s lots of color and flashing lights, I’m satisfied. Or if the people are really good-looking. That’s a sure sign that the cinematographer was really talented.


It’s about movement, light, and depth. The color is more under the control of the production designer. If you’re impressed by the way focus is used, or how a scene is lit, or the way the camera or the elements within the frame are moving, then you have the director of photography (a.k.a. the cinematographer) to thank.

Another important thing to keep in mind is consistency. Getting a sweet shot is a lot easier than getting a sweet shot that expresses perfectly what it’s supposed to. If there is a dynamic camera move (like a dolly or crane) at a given point in a film, ask yourself what the move is trying to express. Is there some important emotional beat here, or are the filmmakers simply afraid that you are growing bored with poorly-written dialogue or bad acting? Good cinematography is simply effectively expressive cinematography. It’s always about expression.

Okay. I’m done trying to sound smart. Tune in next week for more shameless posturing.

(But before you go, ask a question!)

Jordan Petersen is a film correspondent for Rhombus. Submit your movie-related questions in the comment space below or by e-mail at



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