Movie Frame Rates, or Cecil Slips Up !

Dear Cecil,
It is possible that there is nobody who hold you in higher esteem than I. Having said, that, I must take serious umbrage with your answers on P.67-68 of “Straight Dope Tells All”. Your reason for the increase to 24 frames per second of movie film is that moviehouse owners wanted to cram more showings into each night, AND, that it was necessary for better sound reproduction.
Both assertions, sadly, are completely wrong. First of all, the greedy theatre owners. Let’s say I shoot a movie at 16 fps. ( I can do this, I am a professional cameraman, with a gob of credits, and 3 Union Cards. Honest. ). I make a lovely movie, although a wee bit on the long side. Say… Dances With Wolves. I PROJECT this movie at 16 fps as well. It will run 3 hours.IF I SHOOT IT AT 24 FPS ( or, 25 fps, the European standard, but let’s not get into THAT mess ), and project it back at that same frame rate? IT STILL RUNS 3 hours. You captured and replayed each second of images at the same rate. NO time is saved by the greedy owners, who had to show the prints at the speed at which they were shot ( nominally ).
Second. Sound quality being what it was then, there is absolutely NO difference in quality between sound played back at 18 fps and 24fps. Shall we say, no DISCERNABLE sound. My Great Uncle Raymond was a projectionist in the silent era, died of Gray Lung disease from the carbon arcs used to illuminate silent films. He worked for YEARS at the Reeves Sound Research Labs on Long Island. Trust me here, Uncle Cecil…
The reason to shoot and project at 24 is very simple. It is based on a theory called Persistence of Vision. That is to say, what amount of frames per second can be shown to a human where there will be LITTLE OR NO perceptible flicker? After years of easing upwards slowly, 24 fps was found to be the LOWEST speed useable. Why strive for the lowest possible speed? Because, Producers are MUCH cheaper than the aforementioned theatre owners. Raw stock costs a LOT of money. Shoot at 24fpt instead of 30 fps? You save…hmm…20% ?? Lotta dough there.Period. Sound has nothing to do with it, nor does greedy theatre owners.
There are systems out there ( Notably Douglas Trumbull’s ShowScan System, and IMAX ) that both film and project at a higher frame rate per second. The image SIZE is also MUCH larger.65mm Negative is used to photograph these films ( sometimes using the film horizontally instead of vertically ). The combination of a larger negative, and an increased frame rate gives the brain a MUCH larger amount of information to process per second of viewing time.Voila’- a “COOL” new process is born.
I do love your mind, but, oh god you dropped the ball here.
With respect,

Would you mind re-posting this on the MB: “Comments on Cecil’s Columns”? He may be more likely to read and respond to it there.

Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain!

(But yeah, she’s right).

Cecil never makes mistakes, but occasionly little Ed will screw something up while transferring it to print. However, even Ed is no idiot. I’ll have to go home to reread this answer, but there’s just no way he thought that a movie shot at a higher frame rate would be replayed in less time. I’m sure you must have misread that. The part about the sound quality I’m willing to accept.

Greg, I concur with you that Typertrphy is misunderstanding Cecil’s words. I’m looking at TSTDA right now, and on p.67 he says:

“But the main thing was that the camera was hand cranked. The only form of speed regulation was the cameraman going ‘one one thousand, two one thousand,’ as he rotated the handle . . . Old flicks ran at anywhere from 12 to 22 frames per second, with 16-20 fps being about average up through the early 1920s.”

Then, on p. 68, he says:

" . . . the industry switched to a standard speed of 24 frames per second. There were two reasons for this. First, it was the average speed of most silents being made–there had been a steady increase in projection speeds during the '20s as theater owners tried to cram in more showings per night and movie directors speeded up their cameras to compensate."

I think that last sentence is the key. The way I interpret this is that, whatever the actual frame rate of the handcranked film, projectionists were playing it back at 24 fps. This probably provided for a film that didn’t take up too much time per showing, but that also didn’t constantly look like the Keystone Kops on crystal meth. In response, directors said, “Fine, if you’re gonna play 'em at 24 fps, I’m gonna shoot 'em at 24 fps, and you won’t be able to add a showing by speeding up my movie.”

And, just for fun, here’s a site that calls into question the whole “persistence of vision” theory, stating that it flatly contradicts what we know about the anatomical functions of the eye and brain. (It also mentions that you can get away with 16 fps if you use a three-bladed shutter.):

ROFL- nothing like taking on Obi-Wan to rile up the masses. First of all, the persistence of vision “theory” is a reality. It is kinda hard to argue. One’s eye sees what one’s eye sees. Period. ( Let’s leave David Copperfield out of it for the moment ). That “key last sentence” ?? Read IT AGAIN !" Movie directors speeded up their cameras to compensate". HUH? Okey. Look, as I said, you shoot a film, approximating 18 fps. ( Let’s leave stunt/humor shows like Keystone Cops out, most films were meant to be seen at a “realistic” life speed ). The greedy mega-corporate theatre owner speeds it up by 33 %. Who would stand for a delicate emotional scene played out LIKE the Keystone Cops? NOBODY. Owners had to adjust, and as the accepted framerate rose, so did the shutter speed on the projectors. ( If you think I am kidding about delicate emotional scenes, rent “Broken Blossoms”, and get a hankie handy).
Now, I surely understand wanting to defend Cecil. But- both the “sound quality” supposition, and the “greedy theatre owner” suppostion are just…wrong.
I want to visit the persistence of vision site, however. Standing my ground is different from being pig-headed. I’ll do the former, and try like hell to never indulge the latter.
My recent credits include " Limp Bizkit" music video, “Polaner All-Fruit Spread” commercial, and the Montel Williams movie currently under production.) I ain’t BS’ing, folks. Movie cameras, I know. As for the 16 fps/ three-bladed shutter theory, it just didnt pan out ( snicker ). The Butterfly method devised by Arnold and Richter in Germany is the most balanced, and logical design. 24 fps, 180 degree shutter. Live with it, or (shudder) shoot videotape.

:) Still, this is fun !

Could you please pass the jelly?

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